It’s a whole new ballgame in the NBA this year: A geeky commissioner in his first full season, LeBron James coming home to his 30,000-square-foot complex in Akron, Donald Sterling sitting courtside but not at Staples Center. Here’s an opening-week guide:
(But, first, to get you in the mood, let’s listen to TNT carnival barker Kevin Harlan with some play-by-play from last season’s Clippers-Warriors series: “The rebound corralled by DeAndre Jordan. He has lassoed 21!” How often do you hear “corralled” and “lassoed” in a five-second span, outside of the Calgary Stampede?)
Adam Silver, we’re on to you. Honeymoon’s over, Mr. Commissioner. Sure, you handled the V. Stiviano business well. But that doesn’t wipe out a lifetime of missteps. You grew up a Knicks fan; strike one. You went to Duke; strike two. You’re a lawyer; strike three. Plus you worked for David Stern for 21 years – that’s not only guilt by association, that’s extremely unhealthy; strike four, pal.
Russell Westbrook: One part point guard, two parts Pop-a-Shot savant. The only man to hold Michael Jordan under 20 points was Dean Smith; the only man to hold Kevin Durant under 30 points is Russell Westbrook. And now, with Durant sidelined by a foot injury, this catapults Westbrook into a Thunder leadership role, which should translate into him jacking it up 55, maybe 60 times a game. He’ll shoot more than an NRA intern at a firing-range fantasy camp.
Phil Jackson’s back on Broadway! Things Phil Jackson will like about New York City: Good sushi; nice arena; tall mayor. Things Phil Jackson won’t like about New York City: Native American spiritual practices frowned upon in midtown; Carmelo Anthony is only three-quarters as good of a player as he thinks he is; J.R. Smith is only one-eighth as good as he thinks he is; pregame chats with Spike Lee are quickly tiresome; taxi drivers in the Big Apple don’t give a rat’s ass about Zen.
We never have anything bad to say about the San Antonio Spurs. They’re looking for their 16th consecutive 50-plus win season – I’ve gone through the schedule and project them to be 57-25 (the margin of error for my model is plus/minus less than one game). They then will win their sixth NBA title, prompting Donald Trump to seek deportation hearings for Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Patty Mills, Marco Belinelli, Boris Diaw, Aron Baynes, Cory Joseph and Tiago Splitter.
LeBron James has taken his talents to a northern beach on Lake Erie. Here’s the problem with LeBron in Cleveland: He’s been gone for so long that now he has to have dinner every night of the week with someone he hasn’t seen in four years. That wears you out, man, no matter how fine the food is or how good your Uber driver treats you, and the Cavaliers will suffer for it at first.
Kobe Bryant’s last stand. Kobe’s so compelling, I’d get NBA League Pass just to watch him spackle drywall. Even if the Lakers are pitiful, they’re never pedestrian with Kobe. And he’s just as interesting after games as during games – he recently called ESPN “a bunch of idiots” when the cable monolith put him at No. 40 in its NBA player rankings. FYI, Kobe: I do some work at ESPN; we are idiots.
This could be the Year of the Wizards. NOT. If the Wizards are the sexy pick in the East, then Couch Slouch will take a vow of celibacy for the 2014-15 season. Trust me, if the Wizards were in the West, they’d be lucky to snag the eighth and final playoff spot. They won exactly one playoff series last season – against a depleted Bulls team – and suddenly they’re the ’27 Yankees? Wake me up when they win TWO playoff series (and don’t even wake me if it’s after 10:45 p.m.)
If I know one thing and one thing only, it’s TV – so listen up. The NBA recently signed a nine-year, $24 billion contract with ESPN and TNT that goes into effect with the 2016-17 season, tripling the amount of the current deal. That means one thing and one thing only – your cable bill is going up, again. Maybe I’ll switch to the NHL via Hulu.
Ask The Slouch
Q. You spared Fox’s Tony Siragusa in your take-no-prisoners skewing of sports television last week. Did he get a pardon from the governor? (Kevin Healy; Chicago)
A. Someone’s looking after him – Fox is getting rid of Pam Oliver on the sideline and keeping Siragusa in the end zone; I would call that “poor game management.”
Q. I know you are a converted numbers man – what statistic should I keep in mind when I sit down to watch the NFL every weekend? (Kory Lee; Colorado Springs, Colorado)
A. Jay Cutler’s career stats: 169 touchdown passes, 119 interceptions and 473 icy glares toward teammates.
Q. What if there was a seven-game regular season for baseball, followed by a 162-game postseason with 24 wild cards? (Mark Pattison; Washington, D.C.)
A. I believe you have identified Bud Selig’s last piece of unfinished business.
Q. If Johnny Football changes his nickname to Johnny Bench, will that increase his fan base in Cincinnati? (Jack Leininger; Spokane)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.
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