Board Man came; Board Man saw; Board Man conquered, and then Board Man got paid. In winning the championship last season, Kawhi Leonard helped the Toronto Raptors take advantage of the exact circumstances required to beat the last three editions of the Golden State Warriors. He celebrated in kind, reflected on the state of basketball and promptly left town, fishing Paul George out of Oklahoma City and throwing the NBA into unfamiliar territory in the process.
It is refreshing to look upon the league without the particular tint of grey that the KD-era Warriors inspired. There are at least a half-dozen teams with legitimate claims to being title contenders going into this year. So many players moved that it will take some time for the average fan to get acquainted with each roster, something the players themselves are likely still doing. #TheProcess continues, even if the Sixers are among those title-worthy teams.
Soon, you’ll be able to deep-fake your way into believing that your team won the championship last year, and nobody will be able to tell you otherwise because, look, it’s right there on the screen, that really is Frank Ntilikina hoisting a Finals MVP trophy. Until that time arrives, however, we have to look ahead, rather than look back at an unreal past. Maybe we are doing both either way. Maybe the great takeaway is that there is light, somewhere.
Atlanta Hawks: Trae Young was a primary candidate to be revealed as a fraud in his rookie season, yet he was anything but: an undersized point guard with some Curry-esque firepower coursing through his veins, Young went on captivating shooting streaks, including one over a one-week span at the end of February in which he averaged almost 35 points and over ten assists per game on 47% shooting and almost 49% from three, that left opposing defenses reeling. He is already one of the NBA’s better passers; he was fourth in the league in assists per game and third in assist percentage. He will be the sparkplug for a young and hungry team who boast several players with three years of league experience or fewer and also Vince Carter, whose brilliance sustains at 42. Jabari Parker is a reclamation project, and John Collins aims to have an outside shot at making the All-Star team the season after putting up 19.5 points and 9.8 rebounds for a moribund Hawks team that, even if they aren’t that much better, should be much more compelling to watch on a nightly basis.
Boston Celtics: I cannot be alone in wishing for Kemba Walker, Bronx native and ex-Charlotte resident, to succeed on his own terms. I’m not sure that these Celtics are his terms, necessarily, but he seems to be an entirely more agreeable fellow than Kyrie was. They have most of the parts – switchable wings in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, a gifted offensive center in Enes Kanter and the nervous, ongoing reintroduction of Gordon Hayward. We all live for Marcus Smart’s prospective renaissance. Without Irving, the Celtics are hoping to restore some of the chemistry that helped them push LeBron and the Cavs to seven games in the conference finals two years ago. A big part of that, though, was also Al Horford, who joined a division rival. Kanter is ill-equipped to fill that particular void by himself, and behind him are a gaggle of mostly young, unproven big men. Even so, the Celtics figure to slot themselves comfortably into the top four in the East.
Brooklyn Nets: The Nets, of course, had the best offseason of any New York-based team since the season a particular Sports Illustrated cover asked, “Who wants a piece of them?” It was Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and eventual seven-time NBA All-Star Joe Johnson then; now, it is Kyrie Irving and an absent Kevin Durant who beg the same question, albeit with a new, younger arsenal in the holster: Jarrett Allen and Spencer Dinwiddie lead the way, with Caris LeVert and DeAndre Jordan there to lend a helping hand. That was intentional – my hope is that Allen gets more run than Jordan, and that the latter’s experience in various PNRs shows JA how to navigate those and other big man foci.
Charlotte Hornets: A friend of the site once took a picture of the Cat in the Hat reading Fifty Shades of Grey and anxiously grabbing his headpiece, and that is how I’ve felt about the current iteration of the Charlotte Hornets since they returned to the City of Queens under their proper name. Their public mishandling of Kemba Walker, the best player in the history of this edition of the team, sent shockwaves throughout the league as the Hornets staked their claim as the most dysfunctional team this side of the Knicks. I have no idea where this edition of the Hornets turns, or how, except to tell prospective players that their jerseys are almost certainly better than your jerseys. The starter version of Terry Rozier, the true Scary Terry, had better make himself available, and quickly, or else the prominent Shoe Man is going to find an empty pocket at his own hand, and it won’t be either of Malik Monk’s or Willy Hernangómez’s faults. Up to and including their dumping of local taste Bojangles in favor of the overrated and publicly horrendous Chick-fil-A, the Hornets have failed the city of Charlotte repeatedly in this century.
Chicago Bulls: Jim Boylen acts like an absolute mad man; in hindsight, it’s a shame his time with the Bulls only overlapped with Jimmy Butler’s when he was an assistant to Fred Hoiberg and not running the ship. Having only made the playoffs once under Hoiberg, and after averaging 33 wins per season over the past four years, Chicago has had a chance to re-stock its talent cabinet: Tomas Satoransky joins his old Wizards running mate Otto Porter, and the two, along with Wendell Carter, Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine, have a chance to roll out one of the most fascinating starting lineups in the league. Carter-Markkanen should be a particularly compelling big man partnership on both ends of the ball.
Cleveland Cavaliers: The central question doesn’t necessarily have to involve him, but it probably does: where will Kevin Love end up? His contract, while somewhat onerous, has suddenly become one of the most intriguing in the league in terms of trade value. Collin Sexton had a surge at the end of his rookie season – what could that spell for a once-plagued franchise on its way back to league purgatory? And what does that mean for Darius Garland, the second-most-esteemed D. Garland associated with this website? Only time will tell the answers to all of these questions, but for the Cavs, it remains a Dan Gilbert proposition. Special regards to Fred McLeod, whose always-entertaining tones colored a lot of mediocre Cleveland professional basketball over the years.
Dallas Mavericks: Finally, after 21 years, we have reached the post-Dirk era in Dallas. He earned the wine he can now enjoy in retirement. Meanwhile, his former teammates are staring a bright future in its face: following the trade for Kristaps Porzingis, the Mavs have one of the more versatile one-two offensive punches in the NBA, with Luka Doncic’s fearless passing and joyous braggadocio sliding in nicely next to the 7’3” Porzingis’ outside ability and putback-dunk prowess. Add in Seth Curry, Boban Marjanovic and the mind-melting athleticism of Justin Jackson, and Dallas has every reason to believe that, can its top players remain relatively healthy, the Mavericks can be competitive after Nowitzki.
Denver Nuggets: Nikola Jokic is the way, the truth, the heavy. He is the focal point of a dynamic offense, coordinating from the elbows and working out of the back-to-the-basket like few players of his size previously had. Jamal Murray and Paul Millsap will be the beneficiaries of many of his dimes, along with Malik Beasley and Monte Morris, but Jokic will receive top billing, and rightly so. He may already be the best passing big man in NBA history. And by the end of this season, one in which the Nuggets are a legit Western Conference contender that could finish with 60 wins, Jokic may add another accolade to his exponentially-growing list of accomplishments: that of NBA MVP.
Detroit Pistons: Blake Griffin remains one of the fifteen or so most exciting individual players to watch on a nightly basis; his skill set seems to have grown in each season, and he is constantly looking to add to his plethora of weapons on the offensive end. It must have affected him to have been sent away from the Clippers only months after they held a fake jersey retirement ceremony in order to get him to re-sign, but you would not have noticed it based on his play upon arriving in Detroit two seasons ago; last year, he was an All-Star for the first time since 2015 and averaged more than 24 points a game for the first time since the year before that. As much as it is a byproduct of his being in the East, it is also a byproduct of the type of player Griffin has always shown himself to be. He and Andre Drummond have combined to form a generally imposing and effective front court, and Reggie Jackson was marvelous running the point for them. Adding seven-time NBA All-Star and Big3 MVP Joe Johnson may provide some of the flash that the Jazz had with him two years ago, and Dwane Casey will hope to see Luke Kennard continue his trudging march toward being the next great “fly around picks to find the open shot” 3-and-D player. Bruce Brown is tenacious, and Markieff Morris will provide the fireworks requisite of a Morris brother; Derrick Rose should not be in the NBA, and no one should ever have to think about him as a basketball player again.
Golden State Warriors: So that’s it. The era of THE Golden State Warriors lasted all of five years and three championships. None of this would’ve been possible without Steph Curry, you understand; none of it, even relatively feasible. His shooting changed everything for everybody, from Andre Iguodala to the Los Angeles Clippers to James Harden to, yes, Kevin Durant, the latter of whose own otherworldly ability shifted the landscape of the league in its own way. But all of that would not have happened, in the way that it happened, but for Curry. Now, without his departed running crew and the familiarity of Splash Brother Klay Thompson, who is projected to be out for most of the season with an injury, he is a man apart – not from what he has done, given his many three-point accolades, but from what he has around him, with only Draymond Green as the steady accompaniment to his soloing. The good news for them and for the rest of us, then, is that the Curry-Green tandem was the second-most-productive two-man lineup in the league a season ago, behind only Curry-Durant.
Houston Rockets: A Being Mike D’Antoni movie must be at least in somebody’s hands at this point. His influence over modern offenses is evident in every single game you watch featuring a halfway-competent team. He built Seven Seconds or Less; he built the latest iterations of the Rockets, including James Harden’s annoyingly valid MVP campaigns. That doesn’t make the latter teams any more watchable. What does? That’s right – Russell Westbrook, whose raging force and glaring inefficiencies continue to make him one of the most fascinating players in the league. That they were previously teammates in Oklahoma City makes this a well-rounded tale; that Harden has consistently shrugged his way to 30+ points per game surrounded by a Daryl Morey-built machine remains astounding, and well worth a look at how they can split their time on the bench. One historical corollary pops to my mind: though no one knew how to project it ahead of time, or exactly what the fit would be like with two high-profile guards running things, the Knicks backcourt of Earl Monroe and Clyde Frazier yielded a championship in 1973. Even in today’s NBA – maybe especially in today’s NBA, given triumvirates have fallen out of favor? – it can be an approachably suitable formula, and the players know it. Maligned as they may have been for the past few seasons, these Houston Rockets remain a championship contender. This could be their best shot yet.
Indiana Pacers: Others have said it, but assuming that Victor Oladipo will return from a quad injury at the same All-NBA level he was prior to it is a fool’s errand. That isn’t to say that believing in Oladipo is foolish; it is merely a suggestion to approach that prediction as an assumption with healthy skepticism. The good news is that the Pacers were a playoff team even without him last year. They have since lost Darren Collison and gained Malcolm Brogdon, as well as reuniting two of the Holiday brothers (Justin and Aaron) and bringing in TJ McConnell. Under Nate McMillan, Indiana will work hard and give plenty of teams a hard time. The Pacers should return to the playoffs, and if Oladipo returns anywhere near his pre-injury form, it will be all but a lock.
Los Angeles Clippers: Everything about Kawhi Leonard would be funny. His laugh, of course, but also: his deliberate mannerisms, his massive hands and the presumably massive oven mitts he needs to take anything out of the oven, his deadpan countenance, his insistence that he is a “fun guy.” Everything about him would be funny if it wasn’t also terrifyingly mesmerizing in how all of it manifests itself on the basketball court. Kawhi Leonard has been the Finals MVP in two series that ended generational dynasty-adjacent eras. That he spent a single year north of the border by knocking off perhaps the greatest assemblage of basketball talent the NBA has ever seen is so…him. That he then partnered up with Paul George, one of the other, eh, eight or so best players in the league immediately afterward? Hilarious. The Clippers have been relevant as a basketball team for roughly a decade. Now, they take center stage. Anything short of a conference finals appearance would be a failure for Doc Rivers and co.
Los Angeles Lakers: It isn’t his most prevailing trait, but LeBron James is self-conscious. It has become more apparent in the time since he joined the Lakers last summer, filling in gaps with reminders that, yes, he is living his best life on Taco Tuesdays and at 4 in the morning in the gym. The point ends up being that LeBron does not like to waste time. He turns 35 in the middle of this season, a year after missing the Finals for the first time since 2010. In addition to the roster being a full-blown exercise in cognitive dissonance, it does now include Anthony Davis, a generational big man and perennial MVP candidate whose presence on any given possession and in any game is a God-willing proposition; Kyle Kuzma, for some reason, remains the enigma, and if he does do well alongside his all-universe teammates, so be it. Danny Green, fresh off a title in Toronto, figures to be a more prominent piece of this puzzle than some might expect, and the Lakers will need his shooting to create anything resembling space.
Memphis Grizzlies: We’ve already poured one out for Grit ‘N’ Grind, so let’s look at what remains in a post-Gasol, post-Conley world: Jaren Jackson Jr. was superb in his first season out of Michigan State; it remains something of a revelation when a 6’10”+ big can shoot better than 35% from three on more than two attempts per game, and he showed flashes of offensive whimsy and rim protection that scream “LEAP!” Hopefully, rookie Ja Morant will be of some assistance. Jonas Valanciunas remained engaged even after being sent to his season’s grave in the trade that sent Marc Gasol to Toronto; if he carries some of that intensity over, the Grizz will have one of the more formidable front courts in the league. How and when Memphis deals with Andre Iguodala may largely determine the team’s direction this season: if it is via trade early, and some team values Iggy very highly, then the Grizz could become darkhorse playoff contenders. If it is via trade late, or in a buyout situation after the deadline, then Memphis will be no worse for wear in this, a season for figuring out who they may be in the years ahead. Unfortunately, forecasts suggest Bruno Caboclo is still two years away from being two years away, although he did average career highs in virtually every single box category last season in more than double his previous high in minutes.
Miami Heat: Nobody in the history of competitive athletic activity has ever been more Jimmy Butler than Jimmy Butler himself. Here is a man who, in the last twelve months, has: forced his way out of one team by effectively flexing on the entire organization at a practice; become the go-to clutch time option of a title contender that fell several unlucky bounces short of the Eastern Conference Finals; taken stock of things, and decided that he wants to make the Miami Heat the most hated team in the league, starting with himself. Plenty of his Heat teammates, from a recharged Dion Waiters on down, all imbue this squad with a potential to delight and awe the average, nonpartisan viewer, but it starts, and will probably end, with Butler. Given the recent report that he showed up to the first training session of the year at 3:30 am – six and a half hours early – Butler has given himself the head start he so craves.
Milwaukee Bucks: With all due respect to Khris Middleton, if there is a case to be made for the one-star roster-as-championship contender, the Bucks are the best example. Fresh off his (first?) MVP campaign, Giannis Antetokounmpo headlines a team that returns mostly intact from last year, apart from the departed Malcolm Brogdon. The formula of Giannis + shooters, just like LeBron + shooters before it, is a proven and effective one; Milwaukee has instilled enough around him, including the additions of all-time gunner Kyle Korver and Wes Matthews, who can still hit from distance at a 36% rate, to require the honesty of opposing defenses. Looming, of course, is the question of Giannis’ contract, and what his loyalty to Milwaukee may look like a year from now, if not less. This season may very well provide the answer. The Bucks have everything they need to reach the Finals. Enough of it will be on the shoulders of their MVP, but the majority may end up being on everyone else. Milwaukee has two sets of brothers in hand, a super-charged Phoenix Suns, in the Antetokounmpos and the Lopez twins. They even took a flyer on Dragan Bender! Mike Budenholzer will have enough toys to get creative with this team, and it will be exciting to see if they can win 60+ games again.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Definitively, this is Karl-Anthony Towns’ team now. No more Kevin Garnett, nor Tom Thibodeau, nor Jimmy Butler to tell the absurdly gifted big man what to do, or how to comport himself. This is a Karl Towns squad, so get in line, Andrew Wiggins. If Towns was even half as gifted on the defensive end as he is on offense, it wouldn’t be a question as to whether he could drag this otherwise sad-sack outfit to the playoffs – stars have typically proven that they can outshine better-constructed teams in a close playoff chase. It helps that the players seem to actively like Ryan Saunders as a coach, and there is plenty of piecemeal NBA talent here to make the argument that the Wolves could sneak into the playoffs again. I’m just not sure how much to trust an easily tuned-out Jeff Teague, Shabazz Napier or, oof, Wiggins himself at this point in their respective careers. Then again, Robert Covington is rock-solid, and it will be interesting to see Jordan Bell and Noah Vonleh play with capable humans surrounding them. Having funneled out of Brooklyn just in time for their overload of infused talent, Treveon Graham could take a leap, and Jarrett Culver has a shot, by virtue of his size and skillset, at being the most underrated rookie in his class.
New Orleans Pelicans: At some point, it will become clear how much has been handed to the Pelicans by virtue of happenstance. They got Anthony Davis when they should not have; they traded him away once they had Zion Williamson in hand, and for a bounty including several highly-touted players fitting Zion’s timeline. Thus far, Zion has lived up to the hype; the regular season will be a different story, but even LeBron didn’t have this much promise built into his first Cavaliers roster in 2003. James didn’t make the playoffs in either of his first two seasons, but there is enough power here – from remaining veteran Jrue Holiday to the exiled Lakers tykes to JJ Redick, who has never missed the playoffs in his career – to make a serious run, even in a loaded West. I don’t quite think they do it, but it could come down to the last night. This is the gravity of Zion, in full effect in the NBA.
New York Knicks: Remember when Frank Ntilikina busted fellow Atlantic Division point guard Kemba Walker in the FIBA World Cup, and then was the only one capable of defending Trae Young in extended preseason minutes? Remember when his Knicks teammate, Mitchell Robinson, wasn’t selected to be there to defend the basket against his French teammate Rudy Gobert, who owned everything about that game? Remember when Marcus Morris rebuffed the ho-hum steadiness of the Spurs for the New York Knicks? Remember when David Fizdale played a platoon of random point guards not named Frank alongside a bloated rotation of supposed, presumptive power forwards, leaving the rest of the league pondering what, exactly, happened to power forwards? You know the answers to some of these; the rest, you will have, soon enough.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Sam Presti’s drafting genius yielded six scoring titles, three (eventual) MVPs, one Finals appearance and, most significantly, a host of missed opportunities. The James Harden trade set in motion a series of events that eventually culminated in the dissolution of the Thunder’s once-promising young core, without a title to its name. Russell Westbrook is gone. Paul George is gone. Chris Paul, Steven Adams and a handful of odds and ends add up to a lot of trade chips, although the continued development of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the non-draft pick centerpiece of the George swap, gives Oklahoma City reason to tune in, even if and when others end up elsewhere. Paul’s return to Oklahoma City nicely brings that franchise’s history full-circle, even if he hasn’t been apart of this specific team’s tenure until now. The haul of future picks is almost enough to make Thunder fans forget about the past and look toward their team’s promising future. Almost.
Orlando Magic: After giving the eventual champion Toronto Raptors the business in the first game of their first round series, the Magic lost four straight games by an average of nineteen points. For a team with one of the best defenses in the NBA down the stretch of the regular season, this was not a terribly promising showing. BUT! Orlando retained All-Star Nikola Vucevic, and has returned the pilot Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac and an even stronger Mo Bamba. Al-Farouq Aminu arrives from Portland, and he will instantly be able to plug leaks on the wing. The curiosity here, of course, is Markelle Fultz: if he can provide anything approaching his promise coming out of Washington as a number one pick two years ago, Orlando will be in a position to rattle the East. I’m still rooting for him.
Philadelphia 76ers: A popular pick to make – and, in some circles, straight-up win – the Finals, the Sixers will trot out the NBA’s most imposing starting five. Seriously, these guys are gigantic 1-5: the projected starters are Josh Richardson (6’5”), Ben Simmons (6’9.5”), Tobias Harris (6’7.5”), Al Horford (6’10”) and Joel Embiid (mercifully, 6’11.75”). The Sixers will be able to switch most actions on defense purely by nature of their size, but they will miss JJ Redick darting his way to an open three on offense as well as Jimmy Butler’s four-to-the-floor shot creation in crunch time. Horford will be immense on both ends, especially if Embiid misses any extended time. Still, the Sixers’ biggest problem will be health. Even if Embiid stays healthy – which, to his credit, he’s been able to for the past two seasons – even he acknowledges that the tank was low once the Sixers got to the playoffs, which, coincidentally, was also when Ben Simmons’ shooting issues really started to plague the team. Simmons has clearly been working on, at the very least, taking a wide open three when he sees it; no telling if he can hit one in a regular season game, yet, but virtually every other aspect of his game is so well-refined that it mostly won’t matter. If he is able to can at even a Giannis-grade 25% of those, though, the Sixers become an entirely different team. Failing to make the Eastern Conference Finals, at minimum, would force Philadelphia, and Elton Brand specifically, to very seriously look itself in the mirror.
Phoenix Suns: Somewhere in the midst of the leaguewide shift from Big Threes to Troublesome Twos this offseason, we forgot that the Suns boast one of the league’s most talented younger editions – on offense, anyway. DeAndre Ayton figures to build upon the flashes of competent defense he showed toward the end of last season, to go along with his excellent, shifty big man repertoire on the other end. Devin Booker is one of the league’s hardest players to go easy on in terms of criticism; despite his sometimes eye-popping and well-rounded offensive skill set, one can’t help but feel that he is constantly holding something back. His attitude sometimes borders on something approaching “too cool for school,” which is fine for AP Chemistry but can detract from NBA chemistry. Ricky Rubio should provide some guidance both on and off the court, and his highlight reel-worthy passes will land in capable hands more often than not.
Portland Trail Blazers: With one historic buzzer-beater, Damian Lillard destroyed an NBA franchise, singlehandedly breaking up the Paul George-Russell Westbrook tandem and indirectly ending Westbrook’s tenure in Oklahoma City, the only NBA home he has ever had. While the Blazers’ run into the Golden State buzzsaw in the Western Conference Finals was charming, it will remain incredibly difficult in a West full of talent dispersal in the form of duos for Lillard and CJ McCollum to prove that they are the king bees – especially with Jusuf Nurkic still rehabbing his broken leg. One thing to watch: Lillard will not tolerate Hassan Whiteside’s impressionistic Dwight Howard tribute show for very long, so Whiteside will have to find a way to make himself consistently useful and, perhaps more importantly, complementary in a way that he could not during the twilight of his time in Miami.
Sacramento Kings: Do look now – De’Aaron Fox leads the way for one of the most exciting young groups in the league. His continued improvement, the smoothing of his edges, will be paramount for the Kings as they attempt to end the NBA’s longest playoff drought. Even in a cluttered, suddenly less top-heavy West, Sacramento makes the postseason for the first time since 2006.
San Antonio Spurs: On the other side of that equation of excellence, of course, lie the San Antonio Spurs, who last missed the postseason in 1997. Four players on their roster weren’t even born the last time the Spurs fell under .500. Even after losing their would-be franchise talisman in Kawhi Leonard and then watching him win a championship in his first season away from the club, the Spurs remain good enough to put the scare into objectively more talented teams. The midrange will reign supreme, with LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan gunning from ten feet to the three-point line. Trey Lyles will be an interesting addition to the bigs rotation if he can find a footing he was never able to in Denver or Utah.
Toronto Raptors: How can anything follow up what we just witnessed out of Toronto? Kawhi Leonard, forcing his way into the greatest rental season in league history, ends a second dynastic run in the NBA Finals, tips his cap and scurries back to Los Angeles. You can’t even be mad at it if you’re a Raps fan – he gave you exactly what you wanted. Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol remain as the old head vets (the latter two of whom entering contract years, by the way, after the Raps extended Lowry’s contract), but now the looming question is how Pascal Siakam transitions into more of a focal point of the team’s offense. He will garner plenty of attention that would have otherwise been directed toward Leonard a season ago, and how he reacts to it could determine whether Toronto remains a championship-level team.
Utah Jazz: With the additions of Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic, the Jazz have become the underground Finals pick in the West. Two-time defending, uh, Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, the Stifle Tower, remains the league’s foremost rim protector, and he averaged a career-high in points, rebounds and assists last year. He was openly upset about not making the All-Star team for the first time, and I fully expect he’ll be at the United Center in February for this season’s edition. Utah may be one big wing defender away from a top-four seed, depending on how you feel about Royce O’Neal. The fate of the Jazz may very well hinge on whether or not Donovan Mitchell has another gear, though. The third-year shooting guard will need to be a, if not the, centerpiece of a Quin Snyder offense that hopes to break better than league average this year.
Washington Wizards: #FREEBRADLEYBEAL – Beal’s signing of an extension may very well make him even more tradeable in a league full of hand-wringing over player movement. If the last, oh, decade of NBA player movement, but especially the last three years, has taught us anything, it’s that the idea that taking the money to stay in Washington ahead of time makes him a secure presence there is laughable. At any time, he could publicly-but-not announce his discomfort in Washington, and a host of viable suitors would be there to accommodate him. That he hasn’t, yet, is a strike for the Wiz, who are without John Wall for the foreseeable future and, God bless C.J. Miles and Isaiah Thomas, will not figure into this season’s Eastern Conference playoffs picture in any reasonable person’s forecasting. Even so, watching Brad Beal gun on any given night is better than nothing.
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 A note to David Fizdale, while we’re here: START FRANK NTILIKINA
 And fans that chastised anyone who voted for Westbrook over Harden in the 2017 MVP ballot, a particularly fascinating (and, judging by social media, large) cohort
 Or, at least, that is the trend, given: Kawhi Leonard + Paul George; Damian Lillard + CJ McCollum; Kevin Durant + Kyrie Irving; and these Rockets, among a host of other fringe contenders.
 Speaking of which: I could not imagine going back to 2009 and telling an NBA fan that all of LeBron, Dwight Howard and Rajon Rondo – key parts of three different, late-aughts Eastern Conference rivals – would all still be in the league and on the same team a decade later.
 And, to a lesser extent, Jae Crowder
 The biggest surprise from the Sixers’ official height readings, to me, is Trey Burke actually being over six feet tall (6’0.25”)
 That was bad, I know that was bad—