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10 things to know before NBA preseason season begins

COMMENTARY

If media day hammered one point home for Boston Celtics fans, it’s that the guys in green are going to be pretty good this year. We’re all excited to see how this is going to go, especially when even the most conservative expectations have them competing for a deep playoff run.

There are a few other teams in the NBA who may disagree a bit with September crownings of NBA Finalists. There is an entire league trying to do what people think Boston is going to do. Since they’re going to be gunning so hard to knock the Celtics down a few pegs, we might as well get to know what the boys are up against. So here are 10 things you, the Boston Celtics fans, need to know about the NBA as the season starts.

1. The Celtics might play in the the toughest division in the NBA

Toronto traded for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. Sure, there are questions about Kawhi and the way he handled his situation in San Antonio, but he still has the potential to be a top 5 player. He and Green address shooting weaknesses that could make Toronto even better than last year.

Philadelphia is running back a starting five that won 52 games last season and steps forward by Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid could help them add a few more. The biggest question mark is Markelle Fultz. If he can come back from a bizarre rookie season and be a contributor, they’ll be tough.

The Northwest Division (Utah, OKC, Denver, Portland, Minnesota) could have five playoff teams, but it’s entirely possible the Atlantic Division has three of the NBA’s top five teams. Considering division winner and division record are the first and third playoff seeding tiebreakers, the Celtics might have a question about home court if they’re not careful

2. The Warriors got even better

If Boston goes to the Finals, there’s a good chance they will face Golden State. Not only did the Warriors retain Kevin Durant, they added DeMarcus Cousins and Jonas Jerebko to their bench.

Cousins is rehabbing a torn Achilles tendon, but even a scaled-back Cousins is more talented JaVale McGee. And Jerebko gives the Warriors even more floor-stretching shooting off what has been a thin bench. The Warriors didn’t need more talent, but they got plenty of it this summer.

3. Jimmy Butler is leaving Minnesota

The Timberwolves are a mess, and you’ve probably heard already that Jimmy Butler wants out. Forget the weird timing or the conflict between Tom Thibodeau and owner Glen Taylor. Instead, focus on the possibility of Butler joining an Eastern Conference team and making Boston’s road harder.

Miami, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and Toronto have all been mentioned either in rumors or professional suggestions as a possible Butler destination. They might not fit Butler’s original list of preferred destinations, but the Wolves don’t seem fussed with honoring that part of his trade request. They only seem to care about getting him out of Minnesota before he’s more of a distraction.

4. Dwight Howard is in Washington

The Washington Wizards are pushing closer to the edge of what their chassis can handle. We felt the first rumblings last year when John Wall got hurt, the Wizards won a bunch of games, Bradley Beal talked about how “everybody eats,” and Marcin Gortat emphasizing a great “team” win.

Washington’s team chemistry has always seemed to be inversely proportional to its talent level, so it’s unclear how replacing Gortat with Howard will go. On paper, the Wizards should be good enough to challenge for a top-four seed in the East. If Howard can understand his place in the team’s hierarchy and do what’s necessary, they could actually realize that potential this year.

However, if Howard reverts to the same old Dwight, it could drag things down even further, which would put a lot of pressure on Washington to try something new.

5. In fact, a lot of big names changed teams

Each of the first four items here included a big name going somewhere new (Kawhi Leonard to Toronto, Demarcus Cousins to Golden State, Dwight Howard to Washington, and Jimmy Butler to… well, not Minnesota), and that’s just the beginning.

LeBron James is a Laker (so is Rajon Rondo). Carmelo Anthony is a Rocket. DeAndre Jordan is a Maverick. Other recognizable names with new homes this year include Isaiah Thomas in Denver, Brook Lopez in Milwaukee. Tony Parker in Charlotte, Trevor Ariza in Phoenix, Tyreke Evans in Indiana, and Jeff Green in Washington.

This is just the beginning because…

6. Everybody’s going to be a free agent

When Luol Deng signed a one-year deal (with Minnesota) September 10, he became the 46th player to do so this offseason. The salary cap is going up by about $8 million, and everyone wants to cash in as the cap spikes and spending mistakes of the past come off the books.

Of the players just mentioned, only LeBron and Parker signed multi-year deals.

That means you should prepare yourself for the wildest of summers in 2019.

7. Teams on the brink

In addition to Washington, Portland and Toronto are teams that could radically change this season if they under-perform.

On one hand, Toronto took a big swing by acquiring Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. As I mentioned earlier, they are upgrades. However, they did get rid of the very popular DeMar DeRozan in the process, the first big signal of a willingness to dismantle a close-but-not-close-enough team that’s been trying to push this rock uphill for a while. If this gamble doesn’t pay off, or if Leonard leaves after the season, They might rip this team down to the studs and start over with their remaining youth.

Portland is the Western Conference version of the Wizards; stud backcourt, some disappointing role players, and a ledger full of expensive salaries. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are both very good, but they alone will combine to make $50-$60 million per year over the next three seasons. They have a few intriguing young pieces, and Portland could easily make some noise this season. They could also disappoint, which would put a lot of pressure on them to consider making some trade deadline moves.

8. Happy trails

Manu Ginobili retired from the San Antonio Spurs. David West, who spurned the Celtics at the end of the New Big 3 era, announced his retired as well, as did Boris Diaw.

Dwyane Wade flirted with retirement, but is back in Miami for a farewell tour.

Dirk Nowitzki hasn’t announced he’s on a farewell tour, but he probably is. Dirk is in the final year of his contract and, considering he’s likely moving to the bench this season, probably the final year of his career.

9. Here’s how the East might play out

1: Boston
2: Toronto
3: Philadelphia
4: Milwaukee
5: Indiana
6: Washington

7: Miami
8: Charlotte

We can say with great confidence that Boston, Toronto, and Philadelphia are the best teams in the East. Milwaukee, with some added shooting, Mike Budenholzer as the coach, and an improved Giannis Antetokounmpo could surge and challenge the Sixers. Indiana and Washington are consensus playoff teams, leaving the rest pretty open. Miami has the talent and drive to keep fighting for a 6th or 7th seed, but after that, who knows? I put Charlotte in there because of a gut feeling, but Detroit could sneak in as well.

10. Here’s how the West might play out

1: Golden State

2: Houston
3: Utah
4: Oklahoma City
5: Denver
6: LA Lakers
7: Portland
8: New Orleans

So, the West is still very much stacked and the difference between Utah and New Orleans might end up being just a few games. I put Golden State first but they’re bored with the regular season and I wouldn’t be shocked to see them fall to second or third.

The Lakers have LeBron James and a bunch of mismatched role players so they’re hard to predict. LeBron could go all out and push them into the top four, or he could relax for a season and stay in the bottom half of the standings.

I notably left San Antonio out of this, which feels stupid but at the same time I don’t know who to bump. The Clippers could surprise people too as could Memphis, which, if healthy, still has the talent to be a playoff team.

At the very least, now you know who the good teams are. You’re also caught up on the huge storylines for this season. Of course, once the season gets going, new ones will emerge, but now your baseline is set. Now all that’s left is to play actual NBA basketball.  

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