The reactions said it all. Grimaced faces, jaws on the floor, complete shock. The NBA kicked off its 2017-18 season Tuesday night with the highly-anticipated matchup between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Boston Celtics.
But the game was marred when All-Star and new Celtic Gordon Hayward shattered his leg just minutes into the opener. (warning: the video is extra cringeworthy, as expected)
Those who have read my columns before surely understand my excitement for the NBA season to start. But as I sat and watched the game Tuesday and Hayward’s left leg got caught under itself before snapping at the ankle, I was pretty shaken up. I’ve known Hayward since high school — my school played against his — and of course followed him on his Cinderella run with the Butler Bulldogs.
He was a rising star in the NBA, and as an avid fan of the Indiana Pacers, I had just watched Paul George — another rising star — break his leg a few seasons ago. Not again, I thought. Please, not again.
A brutal start to the season, indeed. But as the Celtics move on as best they can — they gave the Cavs a heck of a run even after Hayward’s injury — basketball fans, myself included, will also push forward.
This NBA season intrigues me because we’re coming off the most exciting offseason in league history. Stars swapped jerseys more than an early 2000s rap video, and everyone is still chasing the Golden State Warriors.
Hayward’s injury hurt even more because of all the moves this summer. The Eastern Conference got much, much worse, except for the Cavs and Celtics.
Those two teams will duke it out for the Eastern title, no doubt, with teams like the Toronto Raptors, Washington Wizards and Milwaukee Bucks (maybe?) trying to keep up. The Bucks are interesting with Giannis Antetokounmpo climbing the ladder to MVP status, but they need to stay healthy. My goodness if Antetokounmpo suffers a nasty injury I’m not sure I’ll be able to stomach it.
The Pistons intrigue me a bit, as well, with a few decent pieces that could cause a stir in the playoffs, but most of the rest of the Eastern Conference rests in a pile of steaming hot garbage.
The Western Conference took all the stars. Paul George and Carmelo Anthony left for Oklahoma City, where they’ll combine with reigning MVP Russell Westbrook to shoot 6,045 shots a night.
Chris Paul (finally) left Los Angeles to join James Harden in Houston. I’d say the Rockets are better because of it, but I’m not sure how you take the ball away from James Harden. We’ll see.
Zach Randolph left Memphis for Sacramento; Hayward is gone from Utah; Boogie Cousins gets a full season with Anthony Davis in New Orleans; Jimmy Butler joined the already-very-fun Timberwolves. Watch out for the T-Pups; they’re contenders, and they’re NBA League Pass’ must-watch team this season.
Then we have the young guns.
The Lakers won’t make the playoffs, but they’ve added an excitingly youthful roster as they chase George (and maybe LeBron James) in the offseason. Lonzo Ball will put butts in the seats. Dallas drafted Dennis Smith Jr., the most athletic rookie in a long time and more must-see TV. The young Phoenix Suns added Josh Jackson to their roster, as well. Most of these teams are still bottom feeders, but they’re going to be fun to watch lose games.
Of course, not much of it matters as the Golden State Warriors, who added pieces of their own, win every game by 30 in an 82-0 season. The Spurs will win 70 games and then get swept by the Warriors in the playoffs.
That’s how it goes and will go for a while. But it doesn’t take away from how freaking good Golden State is and how mesmerizing the basketball is that the team plays. Watch.
Sure, the disparity between the top and the bottom in the NBA is troubling. I won’t watch a single Brooklyn Nets game this year. But there seems to be a lot more teams that get my blood flowing than in years past. Even the bad teams have crazy-good basketball players, and I’ll rarely surpass an opportunity to watch 19-year-olds cram an orange sphere through a metal ring.
If anything, we’ll at least have Joel Embiid.
My predictions for the NBA season:
Rookie of the Year: I like Smith Jr. The Mavs will need help scoring, and he’s a high-flyer. Similar to Westbrook, and he’ll be asked to make a lot of plays. Ball and Ben Simmons are also in contention, but Smith Jr. will turn heads right away.
MVP: Durant. He’s officially the man in Oakland. His Finals dominance will carry over, and the Warriors won’t lose. Westbrook will lose touches, and LeBron will rest until it’s time to put back on his crown.
Biggest disappointment: The Lakers. The hype is through the roof, and the young players appear to be stars. But they aren’t yet, and the NBA’s shark-infested waters will eat them alive. They won’t come close to the playoffs, and the growing pains of the season will have Jack Nicholson pulling out his hair.
Bold prediction: Paul George doesn’t join the Lakers. We all thought it was a lock, myself included. But for some reason I’m not sure. If OKC can legitimately contend, he might stay with Westbrook and the Thunder. They may try and bring somebody else in this summer rather than leave.
Finals: Warriors over Cavs. Again.