The NBA returns this week, and while it has become a darling of the mainstream due to its progressive nature, social awareness, social media compatibility, TV ratings growth and, oh yeah, high level play, I have long been a basketball fan and would even be excited for a year like the low-scoring dregs of 2004. These aren’t necessarily the five best storylines, or the five most pertinent story lines, but rather what I care about. If this column is successful, you will, too.
1. Luka Doncic
If the NBA is a pop culture darling, then Dallas Mavericks’ rookie Luka Doncic is the darling’s darling. Draft wonks and NBA intellectuals have prophesized his unprecedented success and future in the NBA, while some of their colleagues have torn down the ability for his greatness to translate to the NBA. The quality of play in Europe may never be so thoroughly litigated ever again. I have consumed all of the content surrounding Doncic and am here to tell you that I don’t know. Is he about to come over, be an impact player and lead the Dallas Mavericks to a surprising playoff berth? Possibly. Is he a pudgy nonathlete with a low ceiling and lack of fit in an era of physical freak wings? Both can be true. People have gushed over this kid for a year now, but they always like to throw in some qualifiers. I haven’t watched Doncic like I have the NCAA crop. I just want to see him an NBA environment against relevant players and figure out how good this kid is and how good he can be. Enough of the fanfare and NBA media dissertation. Can he play? How well?
2. Carmelo Anthony
I’ve been over this (http://dailycampus.com/stories/2017/2/2/what-to-make-about-melo ) but I am a major Melo fan. The cornrows, the headband, the jump shot, even the laziness all resonated with me. When he moved to Oklahoma City, a team I already sort of liked, to form a Big Three with Russ and Paul George, I was quite enticed for the 2017-2018 Thunder. At the end of the day, the Thunder were fine, but Melo was not. He didn’t score efficiently, griped about his role and was ripped apart by good teams in the pick-and-roll. He was a shell of himself. The Thunder situation turned toxic for a minute, but it allowed Melo to move to a new situation with a great setup in the Houston Rockets. James Harden, the reigning MVP, will be sensational again. Chris Paul is battling Father Time, but as of last year, he was winning. What can Melo give them? Is he going to be an ancillary side piece? A featured scorer – gasp – off the bench? A total liability? After last year, all those cards were in play. Maybe Olympic Melo finally becomes NBA Melo. He plays a well-rounded game and, finally, he wins. The sentiment of a rejuvenated Melo is unlikely. It will make all the more rewarding if Melo transforms.
The NBA is the progressive league, as I mentioned. They have bet that sports betting would be a major boon to their cause. Adam Silver has vouched for it, the NBA has been at the forefront of pushing the narrative of acceptance and they are deeply involved in legislation and negotiation with the relevant players in its implementation(s). They expect it to increase popularity and revenue for the league. It is evident in how they conduct themselves. Yet, they didn’t get the federal framework they wanted, nor the one percent integrity fee. The $25 million deal with MGM was nice, but it is a basic sponsorship agreement with proprietary data sprinkled on top. Sports betting is rolling out slowly, and its impact this year seemingly will be negligible. But, what if it’s not? The NBA is going to have to be on top of integrity this year, not just in the point spread, but injury disclosure, moral responsibility and transparency. The fact is, the NBA pushed for this far more than any other sports entity. Now it is here, and every choice they make will be both intriguing and potentially precedent setting.
4. Everybody eats Celtics
When Washington Wizards’ superstar point guard John Wall got hurt last year, the team responded with the mantra “everybody eats.” The team surprisingly played well, and within the locker room they attributed to an approach of everyone getting theirs. But that is atypical for the NBA and with good merit; the best players are supposed to lead the way. In basketball the outsized impact one player can have is rather large. That doesn’t mean other players just accept it. They are professional athletes, after all. Most are hyper-competitive and were a star at some level in their career. But what do you do when your whole team is good? The Celtics are loaded. Kyrie Irving and Al Horford are All Stars. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are on the precipice. Gordon Hayward, if healthy, is about to remind everyone just how good his last full season was. Marcus Smart is an alpha’s alpha. Terry Rozier broke out last year and could start for numerous teams. Marcus Morris is very good but also very outspoken. They have a new first round pick in Robert Williams. This Celtics team is poised to be the Warriors main threat this season. That is in part due to Brad Stevens being one of the best coaches in the association. Most coaches would salivate over his talent pool. Yet, there is always a hierarchy. Natural or preordained, it will be set. What if the pecking order that occurs is not optimal? What if people are not happy with their share? Is it greedy to feel you are underutilized when it may be true? Being too good or too deep is rarely a concern, but everyone in Boston this year has their ideal scenario. The problem is they all may be different, and I hope it doesn’t cause any divides.
5. A bad apple?
The NBA just spearheaded an established vice, sports betting, and turned it into some innovative form of revenue for leagues and governments alike. TV ratings are soaring; they can’t lose right now. The NBA is doing a great job across the board, but they aren’t infallible. The Mavericks were outed for a despicable culture on the non-basketball side. The story has gotten publicity, and recently new life, but it is far from the mainstream conversation about the league. Will anything actually impede their ascension? I am not rooting for it, but it almost seems due. The presentation of the league as a bunch of choir boys is great if it’s true. But I suspect it is not. What will the scandal be? I have no idea. A star player with serious sins, a gambling scandal or some other buried body may come to light. Maybe the leagues dealing in Xinjiang (where massive human rights violations are occurring) or an invasion of privacy concern with biological data collection will be a downfall. It all just seems too good to be true right now.
Matt Barresi is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.