As training camps open across the NBA, questions remain about each team ahead of the 2017-18 season—and not just about how much brainpower Michael Beasley is using (it’s 100 percent). We’re here to break down the biggest story lines facing each Western Conference team. Thursday, we’ll hit the East.
Nerlens Noel is probably mad, but, like, how mad?
O’Shaughnessy: Not only did contract negotiations between the Mavs and Noel go south to the point of the latter firing his agent and taking a one-year, $4.1 million qualifying offer—$66 million less than he was once offered, according to his former agent—but now, he’s being benched. We think. Per Rick Carlisle on media day, “I’m not sure that [Noel] is going to start” in lieu of Dirk Nowitzki at center. Because that’s the way to win a young star back.
Will Nikola Jokic finally get a nice haircut under the mentorship of Paul Millsap?
O’Shaughnessy: Not that buzz cuts aren’t a necessary step for young, thick forwards who hope to eventually blossom (hello, UCLA Kevin Love), but after averaging nearly 17 points and 10 rebounds in 28 minutes per game last season, it seems like this is the year Jokic can finally find maturation … in a barber chair. (What, were you expecting us to ask if two of the league’s most unselfish big men could find a way to work together on the court?)
Golden State Warriors
Will the JaVale McGee–Nick Young combo make the Warriors more interesting?
Uggetti: Swaggy P is going to frustrate the crap out of Steve Kerr and Warriors fans everywhere with his erratic shooting. If JaVale tries to do anything else but dunk, he will too. Frustrated Warriors fans make for more entertaining story lines. The Dubs will be 30-1, and fans will be complaining about how this duo will doom them in the playoffs. So the answer is yes. Sort of.
How will Chris Paul drive Mike D’Antoni crazy first?
Uggetti: Everyone seems to be worried about how CP3 and James Harden will fit together, but I’m more intrigued by how D’Antoni’s system will conform (or not) to CP3’s style. Headstrong is a benign way to describe Paul, and D’Antoni hasn’t had the best history with these types of players (See: Melo). There’s promise that the two will find a way to mesh together in their search for a common goal, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the stress turns D’Antoni’s hair fully white by the All-Star break.
Los Angeles Clippers
Will Doc Rivers and Austin Rivers finally get to know each other?
Uggetti: The Clippers are in Hawaii for training camp, where Doc Rivers said the beach is a “great place” and that he’s looking forward to doing “water activities” with the team. But Austin Rivers, who grew up in Orlando, is not buying it. “(My dad has) never been on a beach in his life. … He don’t ever go on a beach. … I don’t know what he’s made up. Don’t let him gas you guys. He’s not going on a beach.”
Personally, I’m really hoping that without Chris Paul in the mix this season, the Riverses can bond more often, get to know what they each like to eat, their favorite color, what kind of midrange shot they like best, and, I don’t know, maybe figure out if they like beaches?
Los Angeles Lakers
Which Lakers teammate will LaVar Ball call out first?
Uggetti: My money's on Jordan Clarkson. Same position as Lonzo Ball and, well, frankly, not as good. But Clarkson will likely get playing time as Lonzo’s backup off the bench, and the Lakers already said they plan to limit Lonzo’s minutes in his first season. If Clarkson doesn’t measure up, chances are he’ll hear from LaVar before he hears from Luke Walton. Either way, “More minutes for Lonzo” will be a thing that is said on ESPN sooner rather than later.
Is Chandler Parsons excited to be asked about his injury less as he returns to the court?
O’Shaughnessy: From the man himself, on media day: “I feel like you guys will still ask about it.” Encouraging anecdotes on his revival should come out of training camp, though—Mike Conley already told a story about Parsons driving through the lane and dunking on two people.
Who will put down a basketball first, Tom Thibodeau or Jimmy Butler?
O’Shaughnessy: Reuniting a man who once allegedly said “There’s no room in my life for a woman if I’m going to be a basketball coach,” and a workaholic like Butler is a beautiful, threatening-to-outside-relationships thing. My money's on Thibs—it’s hard to yell instructions on a 12-hour loop with a basketball in your hands.
New Orleans Pelicans
Will Rajon Rondo be the missing piece or the detonator?
Uggetti: I am unashamedly a Rondo loyalist. He is probably done, but I still believe in him, especially on a team that may need him more than we think. The Boogie-Brow experiment was iffy in the latter half of last season, and though the Pelicans bring back most of that team, the franchise’s future hinges on the two big men figuring out a way to thrive together. At the middle of this lies Rondo, who I’m praying can turn the faint Kentucky connection into success. (Full disclosure: I have zero confidence that this will happen, but I can dream.)
Oklahoma City Thunder
Who has to say uncle here?
O’Shaughnessy: At 33, Carmelo Anthony certainly has age and all that comes with it—experience, 10 All-Star selections, a masterful get-off-my-lawn-with-your-Snapchat face. But Paul George—with a player option next season, and as a player who is, y’know, better—needs to be catered to more. Then there’s Russell Westbrook, the reigning MVP. I guess this will be solved in-season, not in training camp, when one of them has to take the final shot. (Which I’ve heard they’re all pretty willing to do.)
How will Tyson Chandler and Jared Dudley deal with staring at old age every day?
Uggetti: The Suns have six players born after 1995. Jared Dudley and Tyson Chandler were both born in the mid-’80s. I can’t wait to hear how Josh Jackson tried to tell Chandler about who Cardi B or Post Malone is. Meanwhile, Dudley will be shocked when he finds out Devin Booker has never seen an episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
Portland Trail Blazers
Can the Blazers become the Portland Bad Boys?
O’Shaughnessy: Jusuf Nurkic thinks so: “All we can do is put all we can together to be bad boys. We are bad boys. … Right now, we want to be the bad boys.” Nurkic actually holds the exact vendetta necessary to emulate the Bad Boy persona. Who could forget his sentiment to reporter Brooke Olzendam last season after recording 28 points, 20 rebounds, eight assists, and six blocks against the Sixers, one month after being traded from Denver? “I just played minutes for the first time in my life.”
How many teammates will De’Aaron Fox convert to Dragon Ball Z?
Uggetti: Fox appears to be a big Dragon Ball Z fan. His banner photo on Twitter is a cast of characters from the show. He has a Twitch account through which he plays Call of Duty and he now promotes gamer headphones. His location: “Somew[h]ere on planet Vegeta.” In other words, Fox is already a legend, his teammates need to get on board, and I won’t be satisfied until I see Vivek in front of a TV watching Dragon Ball Z or with a controller in his hands. Make the Kings fun again.
San Antonio Spurs
Is LaMarcus Aldridge showing up, or is his secret twin LMAo?
O’Shaughnessy: San Antonio got much less than it bargained for from the $80 million man last season, especially as the playoffs rolled around. Missing was the All-Star from Portland; left was a guy who made as many shots in Game 1 of the Western Conference semis as he had turnovers (two). Which version is showing up this season?
Is EuroBasket Ricky Rubio the new Ricky Rubio?
O’Shaughnessy: “Change the team. Change the look.” That was Rubio on Monday, when he was asked about his summer transformation from Ricky back to Ricard Rubio i Vives. I’d say let’s hope he stays this fierce forever, but there’s no need—he got a half-sleeve of lions tattooed on him this summer. (Which is, uh, pretty permanent.)