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). On Wednesday, we tackled the West. We’re here to break down the biggest story lines facing each Eastern Conference team.
Wait, who is on the Hawks again?
O’Shaughnessy: Um, definitely not Dwight Howard, whose exit from Atlanta reportedly caused his former Hawks teammates to scream “with jubilation into their phones.” OK then! Best wishes to the Hornets. But without Howard—and more importantly, Paul Millsap, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Thabo Sefolosha—Atlanta looks more like a collection of consignment sixth men (Dewayne Dedmon, from the Spurs; Marco Belinelli, from Charlotte; Ersan Ilyasova, who played in Atlanta, Oklahoma City, and Philly last season; and Miles Plumlee, who is on track to play for every team in the NBA by the end of his career) than a complete roster.
What is going on with Gordon Hayward’s hair?
Uggetti: How will the Celtics mesh together? Will Kyrie take the last shot? Who will be their best player? Those are all important questions, but they pale in comparison to the most confounding of them all: How and why did Gordon Hayward’s hair go from this:
Gordon, thank you from the Miller Family and the Utah Jazz. pic.twitter.com/FEVCNBWMGv— Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) July 5, 2017
In a matter of months! If Hayward wanted to freshen up his look—a “new team, new me” sort of thing—that’s all well and good. But the amount of hair product going on right now is … a lot. Where will this go next? A man bun? Can Brad Stevens please draw up an intervention?
How many D’Angelo Russell revenge games will we get?
Uggetti: I am 100 percent here for Russell’s Revenge, and it will come when the Nets play the Lakers (November 3 and February 2), and when he faces Nick Young and Golden State (November 19 and March 6). The Lakers have done a fantastic job subtly slighting Russell, saying they lacked the “leadership” and “ball sharing” that Lonzo Ball now brings to the team. Meanwhile, Russell went high volume with the late-night workout videos this summer, which means he’s serious about this mission. Can we get Lakers-Nets on national TV? This is my Finals.
How will Dwight Howard annoy the Charlotte Hornets?
Uggetti: “What’s the most compelling thing the Hornets have going for them?” I wondered. I thought about Kemba Walker’s always-growing legend, of Nic Batum’s exquisite play, of Malik Monk and how fun he’s going to be, of Frank Kaminsky and whatever he’s doing. Heck, I even thought about Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and that maybe this is the year he finds a consistent shot. But then I realized: Oh, yeah, Dwight. He’s the dark cloud that looms over this very average but endearing roster. For the sake of having another interesting team in the East: Can Steve Clifford become the Dwight Whisperer?
What’s in this for Robin Lopez?
O’Shaughnessy: Lopez’s trade to Chicago last summer ended the Derrick Rose era for the Bulls. The season that followed was full of turmoil and experimental lineups. With Chicago officially playing for the future, all Bulls players with win-now value are being dealt away or bought out. Rebuilding rarely includes a 29-year-old as a major part of the plan. But maybe Lopez can find value in mentoring—the median age of the roster, as it is now, is 23—or at least help the young Bulls find out who they are. No, like, really.
Can LeBron hold a Bachelor-like competition to see if Derrick Rose or Dwyane Wade is less washed?
Uggetti: Tell me you wouldn’t DVR this! It would be Hard Knocks for the Cavs’ training-camp practices. I can see it now. Rose drives blindly to the rim only to get blocked (cut to LeBron lowering his head). Wade takes a fadeaway jumper only to watch it air-ball (LeBron slumps his shoulders). He’ll take them out to lunch to talk, put up an Instagram Story, and gauge the response. He’ll have one-on-one sessions before finally picking who will start next to J.R. Smith. When Isaiah Thomas comes back in January, we’ll get the sequel. It would be scintillating, dramatic television. Make it happen, SpringHill Entertainment.
Will Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond live happily ever after?
O’Shaughnessy: Jackson’s return from injury last season shook up the Pistons, who by that point had grown used to backup Ish Smith’s pass-first mentality. Detroit suffered, but Jackson has a solution this season: nuptials. “I have to stand side by side with my man Dre,” Jackson said before camp, “and understand this team is going to go as far as we take them. We’ve got to be married to each other.” Mazel tov!
Will Victor Oladipo be performing live?
O’Shaughnessy: Say whatever you want about Dipo’s play last season (OK, I will: He played an uninspired, out-of-tune second fiddle to Russell Westbrook), but the man’s voice has always been pitch-perfect. (His 3-point shot is a different story.) In August he released the single “Song for You” on SoundCloud. Just this week he partnered with 2 Chainz to make “Rope a Dope” in protest of Trump. (Some of 2 Chainz’s lyrics: “Pledge allegiance on one knee / Shoes Crocodile Dundee / attire on the highest level / go to war with a giant devil.”) When is the live show? And, more importantly, for the Pacers’ sake, will Dipo be this vocal on the court?
New York Knicks
Will the Knicks allow Kristaps Porzingis and Frankie Ntilikina to run amok and lose a lot of games?
Uggetti: I hope the Knicks realize sooner rather than later that this season is not about gunning for the eighth seed. No, this season is about fun. And fun, in this case, is letting the kids go to town. With Phil Jackson and Carmelo Anthony gone, it’s time to hand over the team to Porzingis. Run the offense around him, feed him, let him dunk, let him shoot, and please, please, Jeff Hornacek, give me all the pick-and-rolls and pick-and-pops with KP and Frankie Nicotine. Don’t let James Dolan or anyone else mess with a good thing. Tank, and tank entertainingly.
Can Giannis be a superstar?
Uggetti: I know what you’re thinking: What a sports-radio question. But we’re not just talking about basketball. Giannis has all the measurements and the talent to be a superstar. He’ll probably be one of the best players in the East this season. Meanwhile, he spent media day making poop jokes. No, really. Giannis’s naïveté was part of what made him so likable when he first broke into the league. But with the spotlight growing, his star persona will need to develop as well. Really, just don’t make dad jokes and you should be good.
Will you follow Hassan Whiteside on Snapchat already?
O’Shaughnessy: Whiteside first caught our attention with his Dancing Hot Dog filter fixation. Then he took us through a murder investigation with more twists, revelations, and symbolism than Darren Aronofsky’s Mother!. We laughed. We cried. We found out that Whiteside is trying to learn Spanish. We did not find the killer—yet. It’s still up in the air whether or not Miami doubling down this offseason and paying Dion Waiters and James Johnson to keep the squad together will give the Heat what they were so close to last season, before injuries derailed them: a real chance at a playoff run. But Whiteside’s Snapchat will always be elite.
Is bearded Frank Vogel here to stay?
O’Shaughnessy: Vogel showed up to Magic training camp like he had just left filming for the Cast Away sequel:
Which might be an apt comparison for his first season with the Magic, who went 29-53, had a young point guard who can’t shoot, and forced their most exciting prospect into the wrong position. (Like Cast Away, this is going nowhere.) After drafting Jonathan Isaac and hitting eject on the Serge Ibaka experiment, Vogel’s second season at least has the potential to be better.
Will we finally get Joel Embiid on a podcast?
Uggetti: Joel Embiid has owned Twitter ever since entering the league. But while he’s great in that medium, I’d like to see him grow his brand this season. And now he has the perfect teammate to do it with: J.J. Redick. Redick announced he’d be doing a new podcast for Uninterrupted after signing with the Sixers this past summer, but there’s been only one episode so far. If Embiid is this good in 140 characters, I can’t imagine what he’d be like when you put a mic in front of him. Make it happen, J.J.
Can DeMar Derozan average at least one made 3-pointer per game?
Uggetti: DeRozan nearly got to the mark in 2013-14, when he averaged 0.8 3s per game. Since then, he hasn’t attempted more than two 3s per game in a season and has made nearly 30 percent of them. There’s hope that DeRozan can extend his range and embrace the 3 this season, but I feel like I’ve heard this story before. All I’m asking for is one made 3 a game. Nothing more, nothing less. I believe in you, DeMar.
Dinner’s on ...?
O’Shaughnessy: Bradley Beal signed a five-year, $127 million contract last summer. John Wall—unquestionably the star of the team—seemed to harbor resentment at times, saying last August that the two occasionally didn’t get along on the court. He hammered home the point by saying, “Now that you have your money you got to go out there and improve your game.” Other times, Wall said he wasn’t watching anyone else’s pocket, and that Beal making money made him “not mad”; it made him “happy.”
Those sentiments, whatever they may be, were officially tabled this summer: Wall agreed to a four-year, $170 million supermax extension (so $207 million total, if you include this season). That’s a serious commitment to a budding star and a superstar—but wait! There’s more! The Wizards also matched an offer sheet from the Nets to retain Otto Porter Jr. for his max (four years, $106 million). Who’s reaching for that team check at dinner?