It’s almost the middle of September, which means it’s almost October, which means it’s almost time for basketball season. With the NFL stumbling over itself at every turn – which, come to think of it, is how most of its current players will spend their autumn years, in their mid-40s – and baseball casually winding toward the postseason (we see you, Mets), basketball still stakes a claim in some part of the sports conversation, even if you aren’t watching EuroBasket games in the middle of your afternoon (On Wednesday, Italy mounted a comeback to force overtime and beat Germany, 89-82). Tuesday’s announcement that NBA division winners are no longer guaranteed playoff spots kick-started much of the hibernating excitement which will roll us into the upcoming season.
With basketball season breathing down our necks, it’s time to start considering how some of the pieces of Adam Silver’s puzzle will fit, how they will interact with one another and how they can realize their potential. One of the most interesting teams for this basketball season has long been a laughingstock, even with a generational talent who may very well be the best pure center in the NBA. Now, that team has two potential game-changing centers, as well as a hodgepodge of players who either grew out of previous roles or never quite fit into them in the first place. The Sacramento Kings aren’t good, yet, but they could be, and they’re seemingly better; they aren’t stable, yet, but they were for a brief time last year; and they aren’t a favorite, which may end up making them one of the most dangerous teams in the league.
It wasn’t supposed to end like this. From the time of the Harrison twins’ announcement that they would skip the NBA Draft to return to Kentucky, these Wildcats were destined for greatness. It was a foregone conclusion that their talent, combined with John Calipari’s recruiting savvy and masterful ability to temper superstar egos, would lead to a national championship this year. Any questions about their season only existed as formalities, much like their opponents: entertain them, but know that the answer is so obvious as not to be ignored. Until it isn’t.
“Revenge is like serving cold cuts.” – Tony Soprano
An editor at Tuesdays with Horry reported to me a few weeks ago that University of Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari was spotted at a Dunkin Donuts in the Big Apple. Unless Calipari was hammering out a point-shaving deal with the Five Families (not unheard of in UK basketball history, and not above the suspicion of the editor who told me about the Cal sighting), his squad this year promises to be nearly unstoppable. The problem with UK’s team last year was that, with the exception of Kyle Wiltjer (who has since transferred to Gonzaga), the team was a mix of highly touted but underperforming freshmen. While people claim that such is always the risk with Cal’s rip-and-run, one-and-done recruiting philosophy, they fail to realize that last year was the first where Cal had to deal almost exclusively with freshmen: the three previous teams had veterans like Patrick Patterson and Darius Miller to provide some level of cohesion amid a sea of talent. No one would seriously argue that Willie Cauley-Stein is Patrick Patterson, but we’ll take the former when we have a historically talented recruiting class coming in, even without Andrew Wiggins. The SEC and the country as a whole is on notice: UK is coming for revenge, and I don’t anticipate it being pretty.