The Starting 5: A look at some of the best hoops content from around the Internet
Season previews, while I read them compulsively, are mostly not that great. It makes sense that they’re written; people who haven’t followed the offseason compulsively, swarming around every bit of news like starving ants desperate to save their queen, need help catching up on what happened, and websites need content for those people to read. If you have been keeping up, there just isn’t that much thrill beyond seeing who your favorite writers are feeling this season, and why. So when you stumble upon something like the series McGowan is doing at The Classical, something that talks about the coming Sixers season with lines like, “As if part of being a fan isn’t being neck-deep in a week where nothing has gone right, and thinking to yourself, as you rub your temples in the mid-morning, at least there’s a game on tonight,” you take notice. The piece that kicked off the series Monday, on the Hornets and the madness of Jordan in decline, was excellent. This piece on the Sixers and finding meaning where you can is excellent. Today’s piece will likely be excellent as well. You should read them.
There is video at this link of a champagne-soaked Alvin Gentry, in the midst of celebrating the Warriors’ Game 6 win over the Cavaliers, pointing at the camera and promising Anthony Davis they’re headed to the Finals next year. While the timing is perhaps in poor taste – the Pelicans making the Finals obviously means the Warriors don’t – the genuine enthusiasm Gentry shows was surely inspiring to Pelicans fans and players. If you’re not worried about your favorite team losing to the Pellies at some point in the post season, Wray’s piece may help inspire you as well, as he compellingly argues that Gentry’s sub-par coaching record reflects being put in position to fail rather any lack of ability. Having a full training camp with the best young player in the NBA is undoubtedly a better situation than taking over a team in midseason, or coaching the Clippers in the early 2000s, so the optimism seems well placed.
If you’re not drinking the Gentry/Davis Kool-Aid, Eric Gordon is likely a big part of the reason. Injuries have been a major issue across the Pelicans roster and no player embodies that more than Gordon, who has played in barely half the teams’ games since he arrived in New Orleans. But if you ask Gordon, as Weldon did consistently in this excellent profile, you get a very different perspective on the situation heading in to next season. The article spans the seventh-year shooting guard’s entire career, from playing through spinal stress fractures in high school while wearing a back brace to coming as close to an actual ankle-breaking crossover as you’ll see against Steph Curry in 2010, and on into the present. In the process, you get the picture of a talented if unfortunate player whose combination of aggressive play and superhuman pain tolerance have led to an accumulation of injuries that never had a chance to heal. If he’s really healthy, the combination of his hot shooting from last season with even a touch of his old explosiveness could make the Pelicans truly scary.
Everything in this piece is well done, but it’s built around an odd premise. John Wall absolutely does need to improve this season, as the Wizards look to break into the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference. They’ve spent the last two years looking average at best before waking up in the postseason and looking like a different team. While it’s been thrilling, it doesn’t inspire confidence in continued success, and as Moore points out, the loss of Paul Pierce and advancing age of key veterans like Nene will require someone to step up. However, it just seems strange to say that the most important season in Wall’s career is really about Kevin Durant. And look, Durant is a transcendent talent. Adding him to the Wizards would clearly increase their chances of winning the title, which would clearly help Wall’s status and legacy. And Wall is the most important player on the Wizards, who are seen as the team with the best chance to lure Durant away from Oklahoma City. But it still feels almost as if this article could be adapted for any player on the Wizards, or even any player on any team that hopes to woo Durant.
We’re almost halfway through September, and Tristan Thompson still doesn’t have a deal with the Cavaliers. If you’re confused as to how a player that seemed so important to Cleveland coming into the offseason could be languishing in limbo, Kyler may have the answer for you. As he points out, there are very few incentives for either players or teams to make a move during restricted free agency, as the team’s position of power makes it difficult for the player to seize any control. While Kyler goes off the rails a little by including Norris Cole in the group of players who could make more money by holding out, the cap situation, as well as Thompson’s key role on the Cavaliers last season, have made this a particularly interesting case study on free agency.