Somehow, we’re a week away from the NBA season returning because the high-ups believed the campaign needed to start earlier so players were fully rested. It’s not like the NBA was way too long to begin with and would have benefited more from starting on Christmas, right?
As fans speculate about which teams will enjoy strong seasons before seeing their NBA Finals hopes end thanks to the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, let’s instead look at five teams who are going to be awful, but will still be worth watching on NBA League Pass or other streaming outlets. Nothing says today’s NBA more than preferring catching these teams play than the Splash Brothers or whatever the Cavaliers are going to call themselves.
For the record, my Cavaliers nickname suggestion is LIT WAZE. I don’t know who contributes the z.
Phoenix Suns: Really, all we have to do is put Devin Booker’s name here and that would likely be good enough, but it’s easy to forget that the Suns are more than the 20-year-old guard. A year after scoring 71 points against the Boston Celtics, Booker now is joined by first-round pick Josh Jackson and returning 2015 first-rounder Dragan Bender, who missed time last season as a result of surgery to remove bone spurs but is fully healthy for the 2017-18 campaign. Fellow 2016 first-rounder Marquese Chriss also will look to build off a rookie season that saw him named to the All-Rookie Second Team.
Center Alex Len, forward T.J. Warren, and guard Eric Bledsoe are among the notable returning, healthy names for the Suns that will contribute. Former Kentucky star Brandon Knight will miss the entire season with a torn ACL sustained over the summer.
Why should I watch? Again, Devin Booker’s name should be more than enough to answer this question, but Jackson has the potential to be an All-Star in the coming years. After Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball, many viewed Jackson as the third-best prospect in this past draft class, one good enough to where the Suns taking him with the fourth overall pick was viewed as a steal. Chriss and Bender will form an intriguing backcourt if the latter can stay healthy, while Len has made strides in recent years to become one of the league’s more underrated players.
Potential Breakout Star: Given his injuries last season, look for Bender – who coaches praised in the offseason for his Draymond Green-like play as a point forward – to surprise some people this season. Health will be a key, but the makings are there for the Croatian-born forward, as he told the Suns’ official website in July.
“Growing up I did it a lot. Just playing with the ball, playing pick and roll. Just being that point-forward guy. That distributor on the offensive end trying to pass the ball to open shooters on the floor and trying to spread the court.”
Brooklyn Nets: While they’re still without full ownership of their first-round picks, Brooklyn was able to land a former No. 2 overall pick this summer by acquiring D’Angelo Russell (and Timofey Mozgov’s contract) from the Los Angeles Lakers. While the Nets did have to give up one of the franchise’s greatest players in center Brook Lopez and a first-round pick that became budding star Kyle Kuzma, Brooklyn also added DeMarre Carroll and Allen Crabbe, two players who can still produce at a high level in the right situation, but became expendable because of their overpriced contracts.
Sticking with heavy contracts, Jeremy Lin — while not getting paid at the insane rate Crabbe and Carroll both are — returns for his second season. Sean Kilpatrick, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and Trevor Booker are among some of the returning, lesser-known players that fans should expect to provide an impact this season in Brooklyn.
Why should I watch? For the first time since arriving in Brooklyn, the Nets arguably have a future. With Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and those who arrived in the Celtics trade, the future for a championship was fairly short-term. Now, after trading for Russell and Crabbe while solidifying another year of development for Kilpatrick, Hollis-Jefferson, and second-year guard Isaiah Whitehead, the Nets have put themselves in a position to potentially surprise some people in the Eastern Conference this year.
Does that mean they’ll make the playoffs? In the Eastern Conference, anything is possible.
Russell’s development will also be worth watching, especially after escaping the negative atmosphere — one he contributed to with immaturity — that came with the rebuilding Los Angeles Lakers. Is Russell the Nets’ point guard of the future, or is he a potential placeholder who can be traded down the line?
Potential Breakout Star: See above for Russell.
Sacramento Kings: For the first time since 2009, the Sacramento Kings will tipoff their season without All-Star DeMarcus Cousins in their plans following a February trade to New Orleans. In that deal, the Kings found their shooting guard of the future in rookie Buddy Hield, who averaged 15.1 points on 48 percent from the field with 4.2 rebounds per night in 25 games. Young big men Willie Cauley-Stein and Skal Labissiere will look to contribute in a crowded backcourt that also includes Kosta Koufos and surprising free agent acquisition Zach Randolph.
Sacramento also brings two rookies into the mix in point guard De’Aaron Fox and small forward Justin Jackson, both of whom would be wise to learn from veteran Vince Carter, who signed with the Kings rather than a title contender for some unbeknownst reason? If Carter is healthy when he’s eligible to be traded in December, expect him to be gone not long after Christmas.
Why should I watch? After starting slow with the Pelicans, Hield looked like the player he was at Oklahoma once he joined the Kings earlier this year, while Fox, Jackson, and second-round pick Harry Giles each bring athleticism and experience to the table. When was the last time the Kings legitimately had four players from the past two NBA Drafts who had the potential these four do?
There’s also the veteran factor and what is going to happen with Randolph and Carter; are they staying in Sacramento to watch the youth develop, or will they be gone when their contracts expire or if an opportunity to win a championship with someone else presents themselves?
Potential Breakout Star: Already in his third season with the Kings, Cauley-Stein spent serious time as a sixth man last season even after Cousins was traded to the Pelicans but was impressive in his time off the bench. Is Cauley-Stein’s future as a sixth man, or will he be able to play efficiently as the team’s starting big man this season? As the third-year big man told Sports Illustrated last month, he’s prepared to do it all.
“This year I get to be the guy in a sense so I took the time to mentally prepare for that. Doing a lot of self-work. At this level you have to be mentally right. You can’t just go out and hoop. You have to be in an assassin mode. I want the ball in my hands when it counts. I worked on a lot of shots, trying to expand my game to be a stretch four. I don’t want to be a plain five. I’ve been doing a lot of guard work, shots off the dribble, shots from 15-17 feet. I’ve been working on everything.”
Los Angeles Lakers: This is LaVar Ball’s team now. Everyone else can step back and take a seat because LaVar is in the house.
While LaVar Ball does what he does best and make the Big Baller Brand as much money as he potentially can, all eyes will be on his son, Lonzo. The second overall pick in this June’s NBA Draft came with as much controversy and attention on him as any prospect has had in years, in large part because of his outspoken father. Ball will be tasked with taking control of a point guard position D’Angelo Russell never quite solidified, though he’ll have plenty of talent around him in fellow rookie Kyle Kuzma, second-year forward Brandon Ingram, and the always-entertaining Larry Nance Jr.
With Russell and Timofey Mozgov’s bloated contract now in Brooklyn, the Lakers were able to acquire their first legitimate center since Andrew Bynum in seasoned veteran Brook Lopez, already entering his tenth NBA season. 2014 first-rounder Julius Randle is still around at the power forward position, while the bench features notable names in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Corey Brewer, Jordan Clarkson, Luol Deng, and potentially Andrew Bogut.
Why should I watch? If you’re not prepared to watch and follow the Lakers solely for the Ball family, this isn’t the team for you. Will LaVar challenge Magic Johnson and someone from the Make-A-Wish Foundation to a one-on-one game? Will the veterans throw Lonzo into the toilet the first time LaVar calls Deng or Brewer out? How long does it take for LaVar and Donald Trump to get into a Twitter war?
There’s also some debate on how good the Lakers will be this season — and in the Eastern Conference, this could very well be a playoff team — but the general consensus seems to be this: With all of the young talent the Lakers have, this year and likely 2018 are going to be true development years. Luke Walton inherited a team that still had Mitch Kupchak’s stains on it, but Magic Johnson and Jeanine Buss have done their best to apply the soap and create something fresh.
Potential Breakout Star: Is it possible that on a team with Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, and Larry Nance Jr. that Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is a name to watch? Expecting a max contract to come from somewhere, Caldwell-Pope instead wound up signing a one-year, $18 million prove-it contract after the Detroit Pistons renounced him when there was too much of a crowd at the two. With a chip on his shoulder, what does Caldwell-Pope bring to the table for the Lakers — and, if he plays well, is he someone Magic would consider holding onto?
Chicago Bulls: Jimmy Butler, Rajon Rondo, and the remaining parts of perennial playoff teams have left the Windy City, leaving only Robin Lopez and plenty of young talent behind. With the exception of Lopez, Justin Holiday, and Nikola Mirotic, nearly all of the players who will be on the Bulls’ active roster next week are 25 or younger, setting the stage for a true rebuild in Chicago.
Luckily for the Bulls, they have found a potential big three in Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine (who will not play until likely late November), and Denzel Valentine. Bobby Portis, Cameron Payne, and Diamond Stone are among the other intriguing young players this team has to offer.
Why should I watch? When LaVine returns from his ACL tear, simply the trio of himself, Dunn, and Valentine will make this team must-see TV. Dunn has the perfect passing, LaVine has the explosiveness and dunking, and Valentine is the all-around player the Bulls will need over the next few years.
Also, what happens with Fred Hoiberg and the Bulls’ front office? Does a bad start doom Hoiberg despite it being a rebuild, or is his job safe barring some type of scandal or record-setting pace?
Potential Breakout Star: I’m cheating and choosing Valentine and Dunn both. While LaVine has already proven himself, Dunn gets a fresh start after splitting time with Ricky Rubio at the point in Minnesota. The same rings true for Valentine, who averaged 5.1 points and 2.6 rebounds in 17.1 minutes per night across 57 games and several D-League stints.
But, let’s be real. This season can’t be worse for Bulls fans than watching Derrick Rose continuously get carried off the court.
[Featured Image by Ralph Freso/AP Images]