Don’t look now, but there’s real life basketball on your television tonight.
No, really, there aren’t many good reasons to look. It’s NBA basketball before Thanksgiving. The teams playing tonight will barely resemble the versions that will go toe-to-toe to decide the title in June. Did you expect meaningful contributions from Matthew Dellevadova and JR Smith in last year’s Finals when the season started?
But not all is naught. This is the regular season! It matters and we’ve been dying for some hoops. That being said, what should we watch this month? What storylines actually matter?
Here’s my quick guide:
MARIO HEZONJA IS IN THE NBA
YEEEEE HAWWWWW! IT’S TIME TO ENTER THE HEZON-ZONE!
HE ALREADY DID A BOUNCING ALLEY-OOP!
(smashes guitar into computer)
The Bulls Under Hoiberg
Do you watch Survivor? Of course not, it’s 2015. I do, because my fiancée does and I’m a sucker for a Tribal Council. Anyway, every challenge on that show seems to end with a puzzle. Each team usually needs to select one or two members to complete the puzzle on the team’s behalf. Occasionally, a player will trip up and become frustrated to the point that midway through the puzzle, they’ll be subbed out for another player.
Why is this relevant? Because after several years of fiddling with this Bulls team, Tom Thibodeau has been subbed out. Fred Hoiberg is now on the bench in Chicago and it’s up to him to put the pieces together.
Tom Thibodeau was a good coach with Chicago, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
Fred Hoiberg was a good coach at Iowa State, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.
Tom Thibodeau ran his players too hard in practice and gave them too many minutes in games.
Fred Hoiberg has no such reputation. Heck, even Royce White could play for him.
With a core that consists of a bizarre combo of aging vets (Pau Gasol, Aaron Brooks), fragile players (Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose), a burgeoning star (Jimmy Butler), young prospects (Doug McDermott, Tony Snell, my man Bobby Portis), and a large, hairy European man (Nikola Mirotic), Hoiberg takes over one of the most intriguing teams in the league. Questions abound.
Can he bring out the best in Rose?
Is Doug McDermott more than Adam Morrison? (Gulp, sorry, had to).
How perfectly will Gasol and Mirotic fit in Hoiberg’s motion offense?
WILL HE DANCE AGAIN?
There may not be a team I’m more interested in watching than Chicago.
Days of Thunder
Oh, wait there totally is because the Thunder exist and are at a crossroads of forks in the road in outer space.
First things first, they have a new coach. An adult who’s first name is still “Billy” takes over (Donovan) and inherits two of the ten best players in basketball. Not too shabby.
It’s still remains to be seen how much more effective he’ll be in putting Durant and Westbrook in a position to succeed than his predecessor, Scott Brooks. The main knocks on Brooks were his inability to get Durant and Westbrook quality touches and his odd lineup choices. Brooks’ offense often melted into a clogged mess and he called on Kendrick Perkins more times than most drunk college guys call on their ex-girlfriends.
Donovan’s changes should at least be fresh, but I’m still a skeptic. Who is the best player he ever coached at Florida? Al Horford?
I’m not saying he’s incapable of coaching a great offensive player. We just haven’t seen it yet. Donovan’s best Gator teams were paced by experienced, pass first guards (Taureen Green, Lee Humphrey, Scottie Wilbekin). “Russell Westbrook” and “pass first” have never appeared in the same sentence.
But coaching Kevin Durant makes every decision a little easier. Though what if KD isn’t around? He is in a contract year, looking to hit the market during the wild salary cap jump next year. Hungry vultures, like the always attractive Miami and his hometown in DC, are already salivating.
Let’s say you’re Thunder GM Sam Presti. The trade deadline is approaching. It took the team a while to settle into Donovan’s system before Westbrook and Ibaka both dealt with injuries. The team has unexpectedly struggled and sits outside the playoff race. Durant keeps Instagramming pictures of DC landmarks.
Your phone rings. It’s Pat Riley and he’s offering Justise Winslow (who looks good so far), Luol Deng, Hassan Whiteside, and Josh McRoberts’ contract for Durant.
Your phone rings again. It’s Ernie Grunfeld from Washington. He’s offering Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre, a 2016 first round pick, and Nene’s big expiring contract for KD.
Your fax machine makes a noise. You’ve been meaning to get rid of it. You pick up the fax and read, “BLAKE GRIFFIN FOR KEVIN DURANT FROM DOC RIVERS OK BYE SEND”.
Wait, Sam Hinkie just burst into your office. He’s screaming. JAHLIL OKAFOR, CARL LANDRY, ROBERT COVINGTON, THE SIXERS 2016 FIRST ROUND PICK, THE HEAT’S 2016 FIRST ROUND PICK, AND YOUR OWN 2016 FIRST THAT HE OWNS JUST FOR THE PRAYER OF KEEPING DURANT IN PHILLY. He’s sweating a lot.
I’m not saying I’d trade one of the four best basketball players in the world (and yes, Curry and the Brow make that sentence the way it is), but I’ll be damned if I don’t listen and see at least what I could get.
Or, Billy Donovan could prove that Scott Brooks is a terrible coach (likely), then Thunder could stay healthy for once (unlikely), and they could finally dominate the way we always dreamed they might. Donovan taking over for Brooks could prove to be analogous to Phil unseating Doug Collins with Jordan’s Bulls.
In Kevin Garnett’s words, anything is possible.
HEADER IMAGE VIA: Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports.
Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to SALTMoney.org and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain. If you have any suggestions, tips, ideas, or questions, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.