It was a year ago around this time, during the desolate doldrums of summer, that I challenged myself to come up with 10 resolutions I could carry into the NBA season. Those resolutions were intended to make me not only a better writer, but also to become a better and more appreciative fan of the game and its many great players.
As I reflect on those resolutions, I realize how just how overly optimistic I was being about my resolve and my ability to separate my intrinsic biases from my writing. Long story short, I’m weak and didn’t do a very good job about abiding by them.
But it’s a new season and as with all new seasons, hope has once again surfaced and optimism is abound. This year will be different. So here are my 10 new season resolutions.
I will not overrate a team who hasn’t proven anything
Last year it was the Milwaukee Bucks. The year before that it was the Charlotte Hornets. This year, everyone is talking about the Minnesota Timberwolves. Some have even predicted they will finish in the top five in the Western Conference.
Every season, there is at least one team who the masses prematurely anoint as the next up-and-coming powerhouse, and every season those people are made to look foolish. Well, not me. I place myself firmly in the “don’t believe it until I see it” camp this season. You will not be able to convince me that the Timberwolves are ready to compete for a playoff spot, let alone for a top seed. It is undeniable they are pointed in the right direction, but I need to see them win at least 30 games in a season before I’ll believe they are ready for the next step.
I will fully appreciate a Mike D’Antoni-led offense
I have been critical of D’Antoni in the past. Maybe that’s because his offense was so ahead of its time that meatheads like me weren’t ready to fully appreciate its beauty. I saw the 2006-2007 Phoenix Suns as a science experiment that didn’t have a place in that era, and even though they were one Robert Horry hip-check away from making it to the NBA Finals, I never really bought into them as a viable contender.
Two teams and two debacles later, D’Antoni enters perhaps his most intriguing coaching situation ever, taking over a team who made it to the Western Conference Finals two short years earlier. I am intrigued by the prospect of seeing what James Harden can do in D’Antoni’s system, but the elephant in the room remains the Rockets’ inability to defend anyone. They are essentially doubling down on their offensive prowess, and giving the cold shoulder to the thought of building a contender through the age old adage of “defense wins championships.” They might not be any better than they were last year, but they should score points in droves, and I for one will try to appreciate them for their singular focus.
I will actively root for the Philadelphia 76ers
I had a resolution last season to appreciate what Sam Hinkie was trying to do with the 76ers, but I failed miserably. I hated it then, and I still hate how they went about it now. That said, there is some reason to be optimistic about the team’s future, and I reluctantly have to give some of that credit to the man who “died for their sins.”
With Hinkie now out of the picture I can officially, and wholeheartedly, pull for them. The people of Philadelphia have suffered for too long. They deserve a team that isn’t historically wretched, and I for one hope that the Joel Embiid/Dario Saric era begins in earnest this season. Who knows? 20 wins may be well within their grasp.
I will not overreact when the Golden State Warriors start out 10-8
Nothing great happens overnight. Just because the Warriors have assembled the greatest starting lineup in the history of the league doesn’t mean all the parts will immediately work in harmony like a well-oiled machine. Continuity is part of what made the Warriors such a good team over the past two seasons, and there is a very good possibility the Warriors stumble slightly out of the gate as they try to figure out their shot distribution and acclimate themselves to a new teammate, regardless of how good that teammate might be.
I will not fall into the trap of thinking they won’t figure it out. Players of that caliber will find a way to make it work.
I will try to like Russell Westbrook…again
This is the resolution I force upon myself every year only to lament the fact that I failed miserably at sticking to it. So once again, I’ll give it a shot. I really want to like Westbrook. He is one of the most dominant forces the league has ever seen, and I should appreciate how he bulldozes everyone that stands in his path. My problem has always been twofold: I don’t think his talent lends itself to winning games, and he just annoys the heck out of me.
But if there was ever a year for me to put that aside and appreciate his brilliance, this is the one. So I’ll give it another shot.
I will try to find beauty in the Chicago Bulls
The Bulls as a team may not make as many three-pointers as Stephen Curry does this season, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to be appreciated about their roster. Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo and Jimmy Butler are three of my all-time favorite players, so selfishly there is something there to intrigue me. Waiting for the inevitable moments of visible discord between Wade, Butler and Rondo is worth the price of admission alone. I don’t pretend to understand what the Bulls were thinking when they assembled their current roster, but then again I don’t have to. I will simply sit back, appreciate the beauty in their unavoidable ugliness and appreciate it for what it is…unrestrained weirdness.
I will not anoint Karl Anthony-Towns a top-three player just yet
Last season, I was driving the “Anthony Davis as a potential top-three player” bandwagon as the year began, but that wagon was quickly and violently thrown off course. Much of it was outside of Davis’ control, but I did learn my lesson and now realize that prematurely anointing a player is a fool’s errand. The same conversation is already beginning around KAT, and I refuse to participate, even if I am silently sold. My new rule is that I have to see sustained excellence for at least three seasons before I even consider the notion, so I’ll talk to you all in 2018-19.
I will not repeatedly state how important Tim Duncan was to the league
I’m not going to lie, this year won’t be fully satisfying knowing Duncan won’t be a part of it. His absence may actually help the few outliers fully understand just how important he was to the Spurs and the league, but I don’t want to be the guy to repeatedly remind people of that fact. Ok, just this once: Duncan was the single most important player not named Michael Jordan in the last 20 years. There, that was the last time.
I will have zero expectations for the Sacramento Kings
I was recently reminded of a piece I wrote a year ago that outlined a scenario in which the Kings could make the playoffs. It was stupid at the time, and somehow became even stupider as the season progressed. The Kings might very well be the most dysfunctional organization in sports, and there is no scenario, even a hyperbolic one, that winds up with them in the playoffs.
Even though I like Dave Joerger and think DeMarcus Cousins is the best center in the league, I have to remind myself that this is the same franchise that drafted Nik Stauskas with the eighth pick, and then flipped him a year later, along with a protected first-round pick and the right to swap first-round picks, in exchange for two players nobody will ever hear of again.
As in marriage, life is much better when you abandon expectations, and that’s exactly what I’ve done for the Kings.
I will avoid letting “the narrative” cloud my judgement
It’s one of the worst things about the social media age. Ideas are born out of misdirected passion and misguided beliefs and become axioms of truth without any consideration paid to nuance.
Chris Paul isn’t elite because he can’t win the big one. John Wall and Bradley Beal can’t coexist because they hate each other. LeBron is too much of a facilitator and has a losing record in the Finals, and therefore can’t be placed beside MJ. The list goes on and on. I will do my best to avoid allowing “the narrative” to skew my viewpoint, and I will take as objective a stance as possible. This of course is easier said than done given the amount of opinions being thrown around on social media, but I do feel it is my duty to consider nuance when forming and expressing my own opinions.