“So to me like punk rock when it's going good is like basketball, ya know when they're passing it-bing-bing-bing. It's righteous.” — Mike Watt
The Minutemen were the most important band in American history, and the NBA is almost certainly the most important basketball league in American history. And because there’s really only one proper way to preview the NBA season in the post-Mercury In Retrograde reality, which is obviously to carelessly mash the two together. RJ Casey tackles the death swamps of the Eastern Conference and Alex Siquig attempts to make sense of the scorched frontiers of the West. Dedicated to D. Boon, Mike Watt, and George Hurley, who helped us to learn how to NBA Jam Econo.
The unit bonded together. Morals, ideals, awareness, progress.
Let yourself be heard!
— Shit from an Old Notebook
Atlanta Pac-Man’d their way around the league last year, gobbling wins and awards, until Blinky, Inky, Pinky, and Dellavedova got the better of them. Now they should look more like Tetris, as pieces fall together and create a jigsawed foundation. Making it all the way to the conference finals on their first life was no easy task and neither is beginning back at Level 1. Luckily, there is no more capital-T team in the East, and it should be more of a continue than a start. Time for the Hawks to put another quarter in, wipe the sweat off their palms, and find Korver in the corner.
What you makin’, man takes time. A little bit. A little bit more.
— Martin’s Story
The Celtics reaching their peak this year would be fun for everyone but Brad Stevens. Boston needs patience as well as pace, but that’s a tall order when you’re running Marcus Smart and Isiah Thomas off the block. Add it up, and the Celtics seem not quite ready yet. They’ve lit the fuse, but they’re a couple of spinning whizzers before the grand finale, all oooh with no ahhh. There’s an enormous pressure to win right now, in Boston and in general, but for the baby-step Celtics, their goal should be to become self-aware enough to say, “Whoa, there are a lot of rocks lying around,” before loading up the slingshot and taking aim at the Goliaths.
Everything that’s been. The future smashed. Carbon-copy dream. Pipe down the drain.
The anxious cast’s fighting for next play. No cash and no exchange. Too late, too late.
— No Exchange
I had a college roommate who was trying to woo a special lady. He invited her to our home, filled empty tequila bottles with flowers, and covered our beer pong table with printer paper as some kind of assemblage of makeshift placemats. He was also serving venison and nothing made sense. The Nets are that dinner—a desperate petition for recognition atop a moldy plank of wood. Sure, Boring Joe and Brook Lopez will have a few nice games, but the toilet barely functions in your house and she’s just not that into you.
Grinding in reversal. Outdo til done. Proper naked self.
— The Roar of Masses Could Be Farts
The only thing granulating faster than the Hornets’ playoff chances are Al Jefferson’s knees. An spotty, streaky lineup puts pressure on unproven players and a stringent division looks to expose them. Without MKG, Kemba Walker will be tasked with greasing the offensive gears on his own; he’s good, but this might be a team headed back to the lottery grindstone. Cue the crying Jordan meme and all that.
But you explain “I think I found it, I feel the same, but I feel much better.”
Fred Hoiberg might be the remedy and that “better” would be rested, acquitted, awake. We all understand, though, that health and good fortune is just a vague notion in Chicago. This explanation is framed more as an innuendo than a bold declaration. Is that a new twinkle in the eyes of Rose, Butler, and co. or just some broken orbital socket residue?
A richer understanding of what’s already understood.
No meanings from the here and now.
What gift could be a work of art? Can you call it the big foist?
— The Big Foist
Has a team so good ever been so desperate? A spruced-up Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving play augend and addend with scoring and stability to the plonked monolith we all reckon will still be steady by April. It’s presumed that the East fall in line behind the kismet in Cleveland, but the second hands are ticking down for this team to find the sum. Then again, numbers mean nothing to a coming-off-a-loss Lebron. He’s wearing 6 and 23, going for a third, and gunning for Cleveland’s first. God bows to math.
Woke up screaming.
Someone changed sides.
Everyone was dying.
One too many votes … Satan won
— Political Nightmare
Losing out on the DeAndre Jordan sweepstakes may have been the shot-to-the-head that broke the stallion’s back. With their starting wings broken, the aging German will once again be forced to shoulder the singular burden of keeping his squad relevant. But, even at full strength, the Mavericks are dwindling into a long night terror. The dead and the walking dead rub shoulders and clip coupons. The devil has finally sauntered in to collect Mark Cuban’s soul for that championship, and nobody is any particular rush to save him.
Who'll take the salt from the mines?
Who'll take the dirt from the earth?
Who'll take the leaf and grow it to a tree?
Don't look now, it ain't you or me
— Don’t Look Now
Welcome back from vacation, Nuggets, welcome again to the inoffensive no-man’s-land, where the mines are dried up, the trees are saplings or stooped, and the season is about neither the journey nor the destination. They are caretakers, provisional government apparatchiks, placeholders with good vertical leaps. Show up on time, work their shift, call it a night. Clocking in, clocking out. If a tree does happen to grow, here, will these Nuggets hear a sound?
No hope? See, that’s what gives me guts.
— It’s Expected I’m Gone
This Pistons team is bad, but just like everyone says about Detroit itself, “it’s not thaaaat bad.”
If the East was Wacky Races, the Pistons are the double-zero Mean Machine with Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson filling in for Dick Dastardly and Muttley. Built with special gadgets, like a League Pass Alert homing device, Stan Van Gundy’s Some Limit Soldiers are fast, cunning, and bound for defeat. Drat, drat, and double drat.
Golden State Warriors
The distance between black and white
is much further than I would like.
Until now I never noticed that fascism has many disguises.
The Warriors have a championship to defend and a world to win. Are they heroes to be emulated or a new attractive menace, some living kid-tested, mother-approved propaganda intent on indoctrinating America’s youth to an ideology of softness? Either way, the Warriors must now learn the complex dance of ruling after staging a violent coup, as they grapple with legitimacy in a mad world that is being converted to sanity at the barrel of a gun, and the question of whether to follow the path less travelled or invert it. Their vulnerability is the very thing that could force a segue from lovable do-gooders to a new kind of villainy, the hero consumed by the corruption of the One Ring. They’re already kind of being dicks about the whole thing.
Real morning with plusses and minuses. My symbols were truth.
The Rockets are underrated, overrated, overlooked, overhyped. Though the official policy is to win the game using 7 Spreadsheets of Wonky Analytics or Less, the Rockets are hardly the anonymous, almost faceless assembly line of moveable parts Daryl Morey envisions, all pluses and minuses and disposable aberrations and anomalies. Instead the Rockets inspire feelings, raw stuff from the heart. Not always good ones, to tell the truth, but not a mathematical equation to be solved, either. They’re Philosophy 101, and you either drink the hemlock with regards to the Rockets and their basic revolution, or you don’t.
I live sweat but I dream light years. I am the tide — the rise and the fall.
The Reality Soldier.
The Laugh Child.
— The Glory of Man
With purple mountain alchemy and amber waves of filling the lane, the Pacers used to push their Midwest roots claiming a cohesive roster full of unknowns and a mean work ethic. Those times have long past and the team seems to be slinking from their blue collar rep and embracing a more West Coast wave of positional fluidity. The fragile reigns of that ship will be helmed by Paul George (The Reality Soldier), Monta Ellis (The Laugh Child), and a whole slew of stowaway guards. On a personal note, it is really a relief not to have to tie Roy Hibbert to a Minutemen lyric.
Los Angeles Clippers
All has changed and nothing has changed. When the momentum stops, the machine will die
This machine kills fascists. Or that was the idea. Lob City was not born. Lob City was assembled in a sterile factory. A bright shiny product that flew off the shelves, the Clippers have been bogged down in beta-mode and false starts and recalls. This year they’ve brought in a bad faith cavalry to salvage the appearance of momentum and shore up the bench. They are expensive, and look expensive, but there is the sense, still, that the Clips might be one of those paintings that look better the farther away you are.
Los Angeles Lakers
Rigid are the rules.
Static are ideas.
Could wipe out a generation.
Kobe’s Gnostic fidelity to the true interpretation of basketball—see: war, pain as truth, damage, destruction, despair, an honorable death—and his mind-control over de-facto authorities like Byron Scott could sabotage the promise of LA’s future. Imagine if circa-now Kobe had mentored young Kobe. Leaving aside meeting your younger/future self paradoxes, that is a recipe for Dead Kobe Stew. Save D’Angelo Russell. Save Jordan Clarkson. Save Julius Randle. We don’t need another Lost Generation.
Snap like a tiger, strikes like a snake—feel like a poker in someone's fireplace.
— Two Beads at the End
The Grizzlies are both dangerous and comforting. They’re not to be poked, prodded, made light of, tested, cajoled, coerced, or bullied. Their brawny self-determinism is something to be cherished in a new world order of speed and range and quadratic formulas. It’s reductive, it’s problematic, it may even be old-guard American machismo run amok in a sport increasingly debating adopting the Euro. But the Grizzlies are the only team that brings a balled fist to a chess match, and someday we’ll miss that naked gross aggression.
Senses loose in knots. My logic is my style
Can’t avoid it, must make a stand.
— Theater is the Life of You
You’re in a dark corner booth at a restaurant where you don’t belong. Pat Riley slides a note smoothly over the 1,000 thread count tablecloth. It reads “We have the best team in the league.” You look up, furrow your brow, and begin to say, “But only if you stay healt—” Just then Hassan Whiteside smacks the paper of your hand and Luol Deng swiftly, yet politely marshals you to your car. As you white-knuckle it through the backstreets, you think about the team’s depth and bounty of playmakers. “Hell yeeeaah” says Birdman from the backseat. Don’t sleep on the Heat, or ever if you’re in Miami. Also do not led Birdman into your car.
The plan has been made. Ideas. Emotions. Logic.
And substance in a model.
— Sell or Be Sold
The model was drafting and signing every explosive Stretch Armstrong in the league, and now it’s time to let it ride. With death-knell dunks and an abiding sense of all-arm alarmed jubilation, the Bucks have become the tingle on the back of every neck in the Eastern Conference. “Fear the Deer” has become something more than a rallying cry—it’s the tell-tale carom of the ball ringing in the ears of each underslept, thin-haired leader of men in the league. If they weren’t terrifying enough, Jabari’s back too. How’s that for logic?
We could look at the past. Will the nation grow? Prosperity may last.
— The Cheerleaders
The Timberwolves have not been to the post-season since John Kerry was running for President. Kevin Garnett looms over Minneapolis like a Ronald Reagan who never sold Iran weapons or funded the contras. In Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony-Towns they may have found that tiny sliver of light that leaks through the mine collapse. There’s a way for Wolves nation to grow and, as the man in the Kite Runner intones (as we zoom in on a smiling Wiggins and Towns)...there’s a way to be good again. Dedicate this season to Flip Saunders, with love.
New Orleans Pelicans
My body. My mind. The idea of my life seems like a symbol.
Anthony Davis is a human being, but he’s also the Theory of Everything and all three legs of the Death Tripod. It’s possible that the pressure of being the human face of the sport’s next evolutionary leap could perhaps take a toll on him. Except it won’t. The Pelicans, flawed and misaligned as they are, are poised to kick the shit out of bluebloods and old money contenders, all in the name of progress. He’s only a symbol until he burns your mansion down and leads a peasant uprising.
New York Knicks
There are still lofty dreams, meager desires. And still silliness.
— Situations at Hand
When I was researching this year’s Knicks, my computer shut down without warning, which is better than anything I could have come up with anyway. There an infinite void in Madison Square Garden pulling apart reality particle by particle. That said, no one’s ever gone inside a black hole before—it could be a blast! In times like these, it’s important to stay positive if you’re a Knick fan. Mean mugs from Yung Porzingis, Carmelo taking 40 field-goal attempts, Phil Jackson book recommendations sponsored by Draft Kings. The sky is the limit, within reason.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Well I been to the edge
and there I stood and looked down.
You know I lost a lot of friends there.
I got no time to fuck around
— Ain’t Talkin Bout Love
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook aren’t kids anymore. They are suddenly salt-and-pepper origami paper tigers who are being called out for facing the Black Lodge with imperfect courage and having the gall to be unlucky in love. Jeff Green, Thabo Sefolosha, Scott Brooks, Derek Fisher, the city of Seattle, and James Harden, all gone, ghosts for a depressing campfire tale. Free agency looms like hangover at a board meeting. No more time to fuck around.
Working on the edge. Losing my self-respect for a man who presides over me.
The principles of his creed—punch in, punch out, eight hours, five days.
Sweat, pain, and agony.
— This Ain’t No Picnic
This is what it’s like playing for Scott Skiles.
Was this our policy? Ten long years. Not one domino shall fall.
— Viet Nam
Although not quite for a decade, the 76ers’ plan was to continue to trot out doomed patsy rosters. While the team tanks, Sam Hinkie’s been collecting a cache of “process” chips in hopes of swapping that potential for something kinetic. Jahlil Okafor looks to interrupt the inertia and flick that first domino with his humongo hands. “It’s now or never” hasn’t been the case in Philly for a long time, but at least the team seems to be taking a step to distance itself from never-er.
Paranoid, stuck on overdrive.
Paranoid, scared shitless.
— Paranoid Chant
The Phoenix Suns will stop at nothing to stay in the upper echelon of mediocrity. In a way, this never stop going in ethos is to be commended, but it’s also restrictive. They cannot tank, as they are too frightened of absolute failure; they cannot go for it, because they are not good enough. And so they’re stuck giving it the ol’ college with a grumpy power forward, a volatile point guard in his prime, an aging center who was only signed to trick LaMarcus Aldridge into wandering in the desert. Also some other guys, most of whom have names.
I'm already on somebody's list as a casualty.
— Straight Jacket
Pray for Terry Stotts. The Trailblazers, a model of ROTC discipline and cheery pointlessness, have been torn asunder, their former guiding lights strewn about different timezones to contenders and sinking ships alike. Will Damian Lillard and, uh, whoever else is on this team be counted on to spark headlines and analysis more thought-provoking than “The Trailblazers should be good and not bad?” Probably not just yet. This looks like a treading water with manacles on sort of year for the Blazers, and that’s fine. Nobody can be pretty good forever.
Don't preach their structure, their society. Perverted ideas of reality.
The Kings live in the warped reality that is the trickle-down truths of cherry-picking disruptor-in-chief Vivek Ranadive, generalissimo of basketball operations Vlade Divac, an anarchist point-guard, and a coach who may well hate his star player. Such are the conditions that these newly re-tooled and re-armed Kings must survive and outlast in order to land enough punches to upset the authoritarian pecking order of the Western Conference. As presently constructed, theirs is not the blueprint for success...but where the Kings are going, they won’t need blueprints.
San Antonio Spurs
We would run with all of our might.
Push the king off to take the hill
and to learn who was king
and who makes the better serf.
— King of the Hill
The Spurs came up in a big way in signing LaMarcus Aldridge and David West, two heady veterans that will be a boon to Gregg Popovich’s new revolution: the All Power Forward Starting Lineup. Kawhi Leonard, Boris Diaw, LaMarcus Aldridge, David West, and Tim Duncan will line up for a formidable and completely insane formation, in which they will remind the world that they are the Spurs, and they can do whatever they want whenever they want to whomever they want, and still beat you about 69% of the time. It sounds nice, but it isn’t. This world belongs to the Spurs, you are just breathing in it.
Lost on the freeways again, looking for cause to an end.
Nobody knows which way it’s gonna bend.
Kyle Lowry’s looking slim and so are Toronto’s chances at traversing this unnatural oblivion.
The Raptors play like they’re trying to set the World’s Record for stasis, delivering just enough peaks and valleys to cancel themselves out of conversation by the first round. Questions abound: Do you blow up a roster that includes two all-stars? Do you fire a coach who got you out of the basement in the first place? How many steps until you take the next step? How many years can you spend in limbo? How many Canadian-born NBA players do you even need? Forget other general managers, get Dante on the horn.
— Sickles and Hammers
The Utah Jazz are a basketball team best understood without words. They are the jagged edges and occasional miscues of what could one day be a ripping guitar solo in a one minute punk song. Also there really are no words to describe Gordon Hayward’s newly discovered good looks. My word, those are some good looks. Where did those come from?
What makes breaks the fakes. Close your eyes. Open them. Take our test.
Close your eyes. Open them. Not since those days, and when reality appears digital.
And the big hankering cometh.
— Take Our Test
Number 2 pencils ready? After a few years of cramming, Washington is primed for the big standardized 82-game final exam.They no longer have Paul Pierce to cheat off of, but John Wall’s confident he’s got all the answers, Bradley Beal’s writing utensil has mended; Nene and Marcin Gortat just bully their graphite into the first blank space they see, but at least they’re consistent. Let’s see if Randy Wittman has the foresight to erase the previous season’s smudged bubbles completely, the better that his team might make their mark heavy and dark.