By John Albinson
Chief Sports Editor
With the NBA season roughly a tenth of the way through, that clearly means it’s time to evaluate the league as a whole. Like this summer’s wildly unpredictable offseason, the first 10 or so games of the year have provided almost just as much spontaneity. If you had told me a month ago that the Cleveland Cavaliers would start the season 4-6, I maybe would have believed you. But if you had told me that the Cavs would start the season 4-6 while LeBron averaged nearly 29 points and nine assists a game, then I would have started to believe I was living in some sort of NBA Upside Down where LeBron’s heroics don’t work and people start to reasonably panic about his team. But if any trendy word from a popular show with an underwhelming second season would fit this NBA season, it would be the Upside Down. The Warriors losing to the Pistons? Kyrie Irving leading the Celtics, and Boston winning eight in a row? The Sixers playing well? Joel Embiid playing?
“They don’t care until the playoffs.” “The same teams always dominate.” “There’s too many super-teams.” While all three of these oft-heard sentiments about the NBA can be reasonably defended, I think they can more easily be denounced. One of the greatest things about the NBA is that most teams have someone worth watching them for, even if their team itself isn’t very good, which I find less in baseball and football. The Brooklyn Nets are not a very good basketball team, but watching starting point guard D’Angelo Russell is fun. The Nets may not win very many games this season, but having someone on the court with a chip on his shoulder—and a good crossover—can truly save a season. The Nets will most likely be one of the worst teams this season, but having a young and improving player like Russell immediately puts them in a tiny light of relevancy—a small light, of course, but a light nonetheless.
And all that talk about players “coasting” until the playoffs start in April? Well, that discussion usually revolves around LeBron James, who has represented the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals for an incredible seven straight seasons. And this season, the Cavs have started off 4-6. LeBron is undoubtedly the best basketball player on the planet, so to push the panic button this early in the season would be foolish. But it’s not crazy to wonder about this team’s longevity: Can head coach Tyronn Lue find a fourth-quarter lineup that works? Will Wade’s veteran presence make an impact during the postseason? Will Isaiah Thomas even play this season? Or will LeBron James become the tallest starting point guard since Magic Johnson? All of these questions are unanswerable at this point; the only certainty is that this team has a long way to go before they can even think about “coasting.”
The NBA has a way of providing entertainment in a way that no other American sport can. The league’s superstars—LeBron, KD, Curry, Westbrook, Harden, etc.—transcend the game itself. They are true celebrities in ways most football and baseball players aren’t. George Springer, a Houston Astros starting outfielder who just won the World Series MVP award, is not a household name (though his performance certainly warrants it). But if you say LeBron, Durant, or Steph Curry in any house in the country (or maybe even the world), chances are you’ll have someone recognize them. That’s the beauty of the NBA. Thirty teams, all with larger-than-life identities—some worthy of this title (the Warriors), and others not-so-much (the Kings). And that’s the great thing about the NBA: Even if a team, or a game, or a season isn’t going as well as it could be, the NBA still knows what it’s worth. It’s here to provide entertainment and drama on a nightly basis. Not every game will be competitive, but it’ll try its hardest to make it worth watching.