We all do it: lie to ourselves to make us feel better about our favorite team. This cognitive dissonance is most readily apparent with sports fans â€” especially the long-suffering kind. Perhaps it’s most egregious in basketball where only a handful of teams exist as title contenders and the winner of that group ultimately decides which franchise will be hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy in June. But NBA fans (I include myself) continue to tell ourselves otherwise.
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10: “[Insert pundit of your choice] hates my team.”
First off, it’s amusing to think of how many NBA fans believe this actually matters. The NBA isn’t college basketball, where media chatter can impact seeding in the Big Dance. In the NBA â€” barring, possibly, a fight and subsequent suspensions in the playoffs â€” things are always settled on the court. Secondly, NBA pundits are some of the smartest in the sports world. Given time for him to write on Grantland, Bill Simmons is probably, absolutely right about your team [Eds. note: or not]. It might take 4,000 words to get there, and as someone whose Dime Mag columns probably annoy my editors for their length [Eds. note: nope], I’m with Bill on that one. But what most people will see is Simmons on TV. He’s good on TV. Part of the reason is that he’s willing to change his mind based on evidence, which is an unpardonable sin in today’s stubborn world. So you’ll be able to say Bill loves your team, and say he hates your team while providing YouTube clips to back you up for both. But many submit to an uncomfortable persecution complex when Simmons or any pundit is the slightest bit critical or cautious in dolling out phrase. To be fair, if any pundit explicitly says he hates your team, of course he hates your team: you hate your team, you hate your coach, you hate the GM and you probably hate where you live. That’s why ESPN has Magic Johnson there to make you feel better. TNT allows Charles Barkley to tell you how horrible you are. But ESPN won’t leave you high and dry. They’ve got Magic to make you feel better. And if Magic can’t make you feel about how awful your team is playing, you should probably go see someone.
9: “My fantasy team is awesome.”
NBA fantasy is unlike its counterparts in other major sports. In fantasy football, it’s all about your QB [Eds note: really?]. Baseball is all about your pitching. NBA fantasy has no key position, it’s all about hidden gems. Success depends on finding someone in the middle to late rounds who is on a horrible team and will put up ridiculous numbers because someone has to score points for [insert crappy team of your choice]. That takes time and luck. So while you may think that your underrated shooting guard is going to light it up, you’re probably wrong. Plus, nobody outside of your fantasy league really cares about your fantasy team, and that goes for all sports.
8: “Coach is the problem.”
In NCAA hoops, this is always true. Coaches are the stars. They recruit the players, they keep the money, they implement the offensive and defensive systems. The NBA is all about the players. If the coach can maintain a good relationship with quality players, the team will be successful. If the players aren’t talented, it doesn’t matter who the coach is, and if the players hate the coach, it doesn’t matter how talented they are. More likely than not, when the relationships break down in the NBA it isn’t because the coach is pulling a Greg Schiano.
In the NBA, it’s usually because the players are tired of listening to the same tired refrains with little to show in the win/loss column. Two exceptions that prove the rule: Brooklyn and Los Angeles. For the Nets, given that the team is in “WIN NOW” mode, it was a total head-scratcher to hire Jason Kidd as the new head coach just seconds after he hung up his sneakers with the Knicks. He could be great. He could be replaced by December. Either is possible. For the Lakers, Mike D’Antoni is a good coach, but he just isn’t a good fit for the personnel the Lakers are putting on the court. In both cases, these hires are more about management than D’Antoni or Kidd. But a bad fit is a bad fit. If D’Antoni finishes the year with this team, it’s likely because he’s made some spectacular adjustments to his style or because Lakers management doesn’t want to pay a second head coach millions of dollars not to coach the Lakers. If Kidd succeeds with the Nets, it’s because he learned the lesson of Larry Bird, hired strong assistants, and empowered his veteran leadership. Neither is a sure thing. As for the rest of the league, their success is all about how good a team management puts together and how good they are at soothing egos [Eds note: except Popovich, he’s a BAWSE]
7: “The Knicks can win the championship.”
Knicks fans are so success starved after the first decade of the millennium â€” coming off the near misses during the Ewing era â€” that a team with 50-win potential draws immediate predictions of a dynasty across Manhattan. Last year’s team was reminiscent of Allen Iverson‘s 76ers teams, in that it was built around Carmelo Anthony by Carmelo Anthony. With 3-point shooters galore, ‘Melo had options when he would isolate off the wing and draw a double team. This year’s team is different. The addition of Andrea Bargnani seems to be an attempt to diversify the offense. The addition of Meta World Peace and the re-signing of J.R. Smith means that the Knicks have the potential to be an utter circus, as much as, or more so, than a serious contender. With the Pacers, Nets, Heat and Bulls all potentially above them in the standings, reality should set in quickly for Knicks fans. But as someone who lives in New York, I can tell you that it seldom does. Particularly if Bargnani plays well early on.
6: The Lakers are worthy of all the attention.”
The Lakers are one of the most fun franchises to cover because their fans are as rabid about basketball games, all of them, as college football fans are about their alma mater. For years, with Jerry Buss as the owner, that love affair was rewarded. Buss employed Jerry West, one of the best general managers of all time, and empowered West and his people to put the best team he could on the court. The Logo being smarter than just about everyone else, helped. But Jerry Buss and Jerry West aren’t walking through that door. This team is poised to be mediocre if it overachieves. Yet the Lakers will consume inordinate amounts of oxygen in the media world. That’s a reflection of the fans and of a franchise that has been steeped in excellence. It’s certainly not reflective of a team that hopes to have the same amount of wins as Milwaukee, who you’ll hear next to nothing about, and a franchise that has made more than a few questionable decisions lately.
5: “With Derrick Rose back, the Bulls will win a championship”
Derrick Rose is back, but we don’t know in what capacity and we don’t know if he’s prepared to play the type of minutes that Coach Tom Thibodeau usually plays his starters. After seeing Robert Griffin III play this year coming off his injury, every single writer who questioned Rose last year owes the kid a beer. It’s hard not to root for Rose and if he’s “humble MVP” then Chicago should be a lot of fun â€” provided Thibodeau uses an improved bench. Some deemed the Chicago training staff the best in the NBA last season because the starters played so many minutes, which many quietly blame as the primary reason the team was so banged up towards the end of the 2012-13 season. But the Bulls, even if healthy, don’t fit the prototype that caused the Heat so much trouble last year. The Bulls under Thibodeau play great defense, but they don’t have an inside player to dominate the paint the way the Pacers did [Eds. note: Joakim Noah would like a word]. The Bulls strength is at guard and going to the lane, which the Heat can handle. Midway through the season, Chicago could be a very trendy pick to win the whole thing. Sell that stock short, provided LeBron and the Heat are healthy.
4: “Kevin Durant can win a championship without a healthy Russell Westbrook”
Durant is such a great player, as we saw during last years playoffs, that the Thunder will win games without Westbrook. But Durant needs a Robin to his Batman in order to bring home a ring, and Westbrook is that guy if he’s healthy and mentally prepared. But coming off his second knee surgery this offseason, which will keep him out of at least the first month of the season, there is no reason to believe that he’ll be back to his All-Star form the moment he takes the court. That’s a huge loss for the Thunder because in the West Durant will have to deal with a Rockets team that is ready to win big, a cyrogenically frozen Spurs team that just keeps winning, a stil-dangerous Memphis squad and an up-and-coming Warriors group. A Thunder team at full strength would still face an uphill battle in the West, but without Westbrook in top form, they hit a ceiling in the second round.
3: “Brad Stevens and Rajon Rondo are best buddies, so the Celtics will be good this year.”
Stevens, who is probably a Jedi Knight, shook up the basketball world by heading off to a Boston team that looks to be terrible this year. This week, we got news Rajon Rondo feels that Stevens is his best friend. First off, well done Brad Stevens. Secondly, Rondo’s comments are more likely a slap at Doc Rivers than an honest profession of friendship with Stevens. That said, a point guard who likes his coach is a very good thing. But if the Celtics are as dreadful as many predict â€” and provided Rondo doesn’t get traded â€” he may hate his coach as much this year as he apparently did for the past few. It’s very rare that your boss is your friend. Particularly when your business isn’t doing well. This team is competing for good draft picks. If Vegas is putting odds on a public meltdown here, put a few bucks on it.
2: “That regular season win over the Heat matters.”
Deep down, you know that in an 82-game regular season, some flukes occur, particularly on the second leg of a back-to-back on the road. But that won’t stop you from getting excited about your Bulls or Pacers or Knicks, etc. beating Miami in February. The NBA regular season is important for trends rather than individual games. If a trend emerges, as it did in last year’s playoffs, and a blueprint exists to beat Miami, then a February Heat loss could be significant. To be fair, Miami is vulnerable. They have the best player on the planet, but they just scrapped by to win their second championship in a playoffs dominated by injuries to star players. The road promises to be tougher this year, particularly in an improved East. But the fan in us will convince ourselves that Miami stubbing its toe against the Wizards in January means that they’re vulnerable in June. Even though it likely means very little.
1: “LeBron is coming to my team next summer”
No. No he’s not. Except that maybe he is and that is infuriating. It’s the NBA equivalent of a Victoria’s Secret Model that’s always complaining about meeting men. Of course this has nothing to do with those of us who are normal humans. This is all about which billionaire can sway LeBron’s mind. James is a total wild card at this point. No one knows what he’s going to do, including him (I think). Every team, but one, is going to be wrong about this, which means that at some point, every fan is going to lie to themselves about the prospect that King James could be lacing up for them next season. There is good reason for this, as LeBron is the one player that could push any of several contending teams over the top and is probably one of two players (the other being Durant) who could lead every NBA team to the playoffs. There is also the fantasy that he could return to Cleveland to close up unfinished business there. That is only the tip of the iceberg. There are countless other scenarios that could play out with LeBron’s possible free agency next summer â€” including the boring notion, he elects to stay in Miami. Just as the LeBron’s impending free agency swallowed the 2009-2010 season, it has the potential to do the same this year. And we’ll all be reading into every quote and gesture he makes while convincing ourselves that he could be taking his talents to our favorite team.
What do you think?
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