Whew! What an amazing season that was! It feels like only yesterday that Michael Jordan showed Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton that he wasn’t quite ready to surrender the throne, and yet here we are, with the 1996-7 NBA season upon us.
Is a Finals re-match in the offing? Read on to find out!
The defending champs bring back their entire nucleus, including Jordan, Pippen, Kukoc, Rodman maybe?, Jud Buechler, Steve Kerr and/or Jon Paxson. Does Jordan have enough left in the tank for another run, or will he find himself "out" of the playoffs? (Note: Jordan had left to play baseball. I feel like we (and by "we" I mean sports media like myself and Mitch Albom) were still doing baseball puns at this point.)
If new coach Larry Bird can get Mark Jackson, Reggie Miller, and that McKey guy to play together, this team could be a beast in the East.
Oh, and I’m pretty sure the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement at the time required me to mention something about Rik Smits’s plantar fasciitis. (Personal note: I also suffer from plantar fasciitis. It’s debilitating for me, but I still feel Smits was a pussy.)
Is this the year that Dominique Wilkins makes The Leap? I know I have the benefit of hindsight, but even without that….no. It is not the year.
On the bright side, however, they still have the criminally underrated Kevin Willis, who may just find himself in the Hall of Fame someday.
Will super-rookie Glenn Robinson turn this franchise around? At the time I thought Robinson would be better than a dozen Dwight Howards, so I’m going to go ahead and say I would’ve predicted a playoff appearance at the very least for Milwaukee.
Their Big Three of Larry Johnson, Alonzo Mourning, and Muggsy Bogues are the most unstoppable trifecta in NBA history, and I’m still mad at the gangs that made my mom refuse to buy me a Hornets Starter jacket or British Knights shoes.
Not the first time me and the Crips have had a falling out, believe you me.
Making their NBA debut maybe, the Raptors have one big ace up their sleeves: Damon Stoudemire, a top-3 all-time PG (Editor’s note: John Stockton, Jo Jo White…yeah I guess it checks out.) Will Stoudemire take this team to the Promised Land in his first year? If by "Promised Land" you mean "Memphis," then yeah.
New coach Mike Fratello is going to win by slowing the game down – way down. And with proven winners like Terrell Brandon and I think maybe "Hot Rod" Williams on his team, Fratello might just go slowly in the fast lane all the way to an NBA title. (Author’s note: Look for my new book, "Wednesdays with Mordecai" at an airport bookstore near you.)
Isiah Thomas. Bill Laimbeer. Joe Dumars. That guy from "The Best Damn Sports Show Period." Ben Wallace. Rip Hamilton. Khalid El-Amin. Ed O’Bannon. Corliss Williamson. These are just some of the players that maybe played in Detroit at least once.
The team made a stunning run to the Finals two years ago, but they were surpassed by Jordan’s Bulls last year. Can they challenge this year? Or will Penny Hardaway’s devastating knee injury derail their hopes, or did that happen next year? Also is Shaq still on the team? THIS SQUAD HAS MANY QUESTION MARKS.
Regardless of whether they’ll practice "Shaq Fu" on opponents this season, they should still cruise to the playoffs on the back of criminally underrated PF Kevin Willis.
Has there ever been a more electric backcourt than Glen Rice and Harold Miner? Call them "Mr. Inside/Outside," because they’ll both be in and out of police custody the rest of their lives.
Also, Glen Rice fucked Sarah Palin, which is not a sentence that makes sense yet, but bookmark this page and check back in 10 years or so.
Will shedding their troublesome "Bullets" moniker also help them shed their losing ways. It will if Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, and the other two guys have anything to say about it.
New York Knicks
One thing that will always be true in any NBA preview: the Knicks aren’t title contenders. This was back when they were still annoying enough to fuck up a few rounds of the playoffs, however.
Also I’m pretty sure their starting five was Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, Anthony Mason, Tom Gugliotta, and Vin Baker.
New Jersey Nets
If there’s one thing I’m willing to bet my journalistic credibility on, it’s this: Keith Van Horn will be a top-5 all-time NBA player. (Editor’s note: John Stockton, Jo Jo White…yep, it checks out.)
Oh shit. Was Keith Van Horn on the Nets or the Sixers? Are Keith Van Horn, Shawn Bradley, and Michael Doleac all the same person???
Either way, Sixers fans will want to keep their eyes on the college ranks, where the future savior of the franchise is still toiling away at Georgetown.
That’s right: get excited for the Othella Harrington Show.
Get excited for this young team! After they "gambled" on Antoine Walker (that joke will also make more sense in about 10 years) and Paul Pierce, this team looks loaded for bear in the Atlantic. One thing’s for sure, however: this is still Dino Radja’s team, and will be for the next 10-15 years.
Not content to relinquish their stranglehold on the Western Conference to the upstart Sonics, the Rockets went out and reloaded. In addition to Olajuwon, Horry, Elie, and Drexler, they also added Charles Barkley, Fat Lever, Tom Chambers, Rick Mahorn, Lance Henriksen, Fred Ward, and Shannon Tweed.
Oh, and by the way…you know who’s still here? That’s right – the criminally underrated Kevin Willis.
This is an all-star cast, and it’s hard to see anyone beating them.
Consistency. It’s the hallmark of John Stockton’s career. Every day he eats the same meal, runs the same pick & roll, and masturbates to the same picture of Cloris Leachman. Will it be enough to get his team to the Finals, though?
Probably not. This team has like 3 different versions of Greg Ostertag.
Things have been rough for this franchise in its early years, but help is on the way, thanks to a gangly little high school fuckhead named Kevin Garnett. Oh, and I’m gonna throw out another name here as a wild-card: Cherokee Parks.
I might be thinking of Eric Montross. It won’t matter either way.
San Antonio Spurs
Will the nucleus of David Robinson, Avery Johnson, and Vinny Del Negro be enough in the stacked West? Maybe not, which is why they doubled down on Terry Cummings, who just might be the most important player in the league this year.
Oh, and let me let you in on a little secret: this team still has the criminally underrated Kevin Willis. Yeah, be very afraid.
One thing’s for certain: the nucleus of Jim Jackson, Jason Kidd, and Jamal Mashburn will definitely win some titles in Dallas.
Yeah, that’s right – titles. With an "s."
Is it too early to start thinking championships in Vancouver? Not when you’ve got Bryant "Big Country" Reeves manning the middle. Combine his interior dominance with the inside/outside game of Shareef Abdur-Rahim, and you’ve got a team that’s going places.
Like Toronto after the Raptors go to Memphis, probably.
LaPhonso Ellis. Antonio McDyess. Robert Pack. Need I say more? I hope not, because I can’t remember anything else.
This team was thisclose to winning it all last year, and another year to gel might be all the franchise needs to make the next step.
One thing’s for certain: no one has ever said "no" to spending more time with George Karl.
Los Angeles Lakers
Is Shaq here yet? Regardless, there’s no denying that this is still Cedric Ceballos’s team, and always will be.
Oh, and they’re definitely going to regret letting Vlade Divac go. That’s going to haunt this franchise for years, if not decades.
Los Angeles Clippers
Bo Outlaw does not get the credit he deserves. Do you know how many other players in NBA history have averaged 7 points and 14 rebounds a game? Just one: Oliver Miller.
Pretty lofty company, if you ask me.
They lost "the Round Mound of Rebound," but they might’ve replaced him with someone better: Hot Rod Williams, maybe?
Portland Trail Blazers
Clyde who? That’s what fans in Oregon were asking after the Blazers didn’t miss a beat after their star player left for Houston. Of course, with stars like Terry Porter, Clifford Robinson, and Kevin Duckworth on your team, you can afford to lose a generational talent or two.
Golden State Warriors
With young super-stud Joe Smith on the team, the sky’s the limit for the Warriors. This team might not have all the talent in the world yet, but their chemistry is off the charts. Young star Latrell Sprewell and coach P.J. Carlesimo especially seem to see eye-to-eye.
It’s hard to "Run TMC" when Tim Hardaway might be in Miami, Mitch Richmond might be in Washington, and Chris Mullin might be passed out in a bar somewhere. All things I should’ve mentioned earlier, but I just now remembered.
This is a team on the rise, though. Expect to hear A LOT about the "Edney-Polynice connection" in the coming years.
MVP: Shawn Kemp, Sonics
Sorry, Mike: Shawn Kemp is hungry, and nothing will contain his appetite except some MVP hardware.
Rookie of the Year: Kerry Kittles, Nets
Kerry Kittles is a cross between Larry Bird and Xavier McDaniel. Look for him to lead this Nets franchise for a long, long time.
Coach of the Year: Bob Hill, Spurs
You’ve got yourself a winner, San Antonio. Expect to see Bob Hill prowling your sideline for the foreseeable future.
Comeback Player of the Year: Drazen Petrovic, Nets
I’m either too soon or way, way too late with this one.
Western Conference Finals: Rockets over Sonics
Eastern Conference Finals: Magic over Bulls
NBA CHAMP: Houston Rockets
Bottom line: the Rockets have more Kevin Willis than Kevin Willis and the Magic can handle.