October is coming fast, and with it, NBA ball. Making predictions for the uncharted year to come requires reinterpreting the first image of the offseason: the Warriors popping corks in June in the locker room should read like magnums of champagne dashed against so many proverbial hulls, setting new ships to sail. We’ve seen innovative playing styles in recent years, like 2009, but we hardly celebrated those Rashard Lewis three-point bombs like we do when Steph Curry pulls up from just past half court. Without a doubt, the 2014-15 season was a transitional year that will carry over into the new and bring about league-wide changes, no matter whether they’re fully understood.
Fans have accepted the change of pace and the players that enable it—as they should. It doesn’t take too much convincing to watch Boris Diaw deliver impossibly-angled entry passes in lieu of a rather large simpleton whom we only trust to move, Pavlovian, rim to rim. But, whether we can call it an evolution or revolution depends entirely on the stance of team GMs and coaches. How willingly will they adapt to change? One thing is for sure: if this is a revolution, no one wants a Nicholas II exit.
This atmosphere of restless change has created another level of interest for the 2015-16 season, something more human interest-oriented than mere wins and losses. For analysts and former coaches, this is a major life change; no longer do truisms like “you only die by the jumper” or “the game inevitably slows down in the playoffs” hold any weight. Next time you see the ESPN, ABC or TNT crew, let 'em know you’re here for them during this period of transition. This will also be a tough time for some current coaches, and it requires a certain level of empathy and understanding on our part, because without that, the hilarity of the post-game pressers will be lost. We can’t let that happen.
If everything breaks right, then get ready for one or two coaches talking, clench-jawed, of how 6’7” guards would never have been able to patrol the paint in their day, and that there’s something undignified about it. Think of how much richer life will be when we not only have league pass teams, but league pass sideline coaching melodramas to along with it. We’ll also get more entertainment of the non-mean-spirited variety, too, because now coaches have analytics on their side to justify unorthodox lineups, and they know we’ll never fact check them. Remember those two hours when Blake Griffin was rumored to play center for short spurts? We all lost something dear in the Battle of Emojis that fateful day. Luckily, we’ll be able to forget about what could have been if Paul George truly does lace them up as a power forward. Replacing David West with PG in the starting lineup is certainly a method to kick start the team that damn near announced their entrance while simultaneously exiting stage left.
Now is the time to admit that we saw the demise of the traditional team coming but chose to take the wait-and-see approach. Trends need to be dynasty-certified, like the triangle offense Bulls. Besides, the Miami Heat team seemed a little too transitory for our taste—“pace and space” probably isn’t trademarked like other championship phrases like “three-peat.” Preceding that neologisticless team was Dallas, simply a one-off hardly worth mentioning. Never mind the fact that the Mavs won without a bruising power forward or a dominant traditional low-post threat. The shock to the system was the Warriors’ win; we needed the win, and since they could feasibly do it until they’re too successful and players exit for more lucrative contracts, we can’t discount the Warrior method.
The next few seasons will be a coming-of-age tale of sorts, complete with all the awkward growth and changing views/convictions that accompany those teenage years—something spectators can enjoy revisiting from a safe distance. Head coaches that were sold on one conception of a team will be guided in a new direction by a GM who won’t stay the hell out of their life. Who’s to say how many ounces of Axe cologne/bear spray it takes to impress during the middle-school-dance era of NBA ball? That’s for center Lance Stephenson to decide. It will be a confusing time for all of us, but much more amusing on the fan’s side of the screen.
However, there will always be teams who are incapable of recognizing change from a false sense of job security. The last few years, the Los Angeles Lakers have come to resemble the bloated, complacent American car industry of the 80’s, blatantly ignoring new standards because who dare question their legacy? Although it may be complacent, we can’t call it reactionary, not like the majority of the league unilaterally adopting a roster and offense scheme based on one season’s results while simultaneously disregarding what the competition is doing. That’s a compliment for the Lakers, I guess. Further proof the world is a strange, strange place. What partially made small ball so appealing was that it provided an advantage over the rest of the league that featured rosters less nimble and adaptable. Once every roster mirrors the opponent, Eric Bledsoe will no longer be able to get past a defender quite so easily, neutralizing the net gain that he once created. What was once considered revolutionary will become old hat unless tinkered with, and that’s especially a tall order when an eager acceptance of the new offensive systems is in question to begin with. Plus, there’s always the possibility that trying to outshoot Steph Curry in a seven-game series won’t work for a number of opposing teams. (That number is 29, by the way.)
So maybe this revolution isn’t something to be bought into unquestioningly; maybe what we should take away from the most recent champs is that there are multiple ways to be successful in this league, reactionary not being one of them. Really, we should have already learned this from the Spurs ten years ago. As we enter into a new era of basketball, adjustments will have to be made, and somewhere I hope Don Nelson has them, eager to tell anyone brave enough to withstand the scotch-soaked giggles, his finger pointed towards the new sideline melodrama that he helped create. May his secondhand cigar smoke at the local tiki-themed bar be a lesson against basketball dogma and the illusions we hold.