If the playoffs started today, and the NBA had a similar format as the WNBA used for the first time this season, Cleveland and Golden State would receive double-byes into the semifinals, on a collision course to a third finals meeting in as many seasons.
But instead, those who already have these two teams penciled in as finalists must wait for the 82-game regular season to play itself out.
“I think, obviously, those two teams are the clear favorites in the East and the West,” noted Mark Jackson, the former Golden State coach on his former team and the Cavaliers. However, Jackson warned reporters during Monday’s conference call with reporters, including the MSR, “I don’t think that it’s a foregone conclusion that you can pencil them both in.
“I think they’re favorites. [But] there are some dangerous teams that are more than capable of advancing and winning it,” said Jackson.
He and Jeff Van Gundy, another fellow former league coach and now an analyst, shared their thoughts on the upcoming 2016-17 NBA season which starts Tuesday.
We asked both men to speak on the 2016-17 Minnesota Timberwolves, a team that hasn’t been in the playoffs in this century. Some think they can make a big jump into the playoffs next spring, a thought this reporter does not share.
“I have the Minnesota Timberwolves making the playoffs,” said Jackson. “I thought [former coach] Sam Mitchell did a very good job last year of building a culture and having them compete and getting success from his young players. And I think Thibs (new Head Coach Tom Thibodeau) is going to build on it. “They defend at a high level,” he continued. “They are very talented. They are very deep.”
We watched the Wolves play Friday in a preseason contest. Second-year center Karl-Anthony Towns looked in midseason form. He would be my long-shot MVP pick this year,” said Van Gundy. “I think he’s going to have that great a year.”
“I see them having a legit chance of making the playoffs,” he added on Minnesota. “I think they have improved their depth. Brandon Rush, Cole Aldrich…under-the-radar type of moves I think will give their second unit a boost.”
We then asked the two analysts to touch upon any underwhelming storylines for this season.
Both Jackson and Van Gundy agreed that if the owners and players produce a new CBA, as has been reported that both sides are very close to doing, this might be the season’s best news.
“That would be a terrific thing for all basketball people,” said Van Gundy. “I don’t know what the issues are, except that everybody is making a ton of money: owners, players and the league. It’s smart not to screw it up.”
Said Jackson, “I think that would be a home run for everybody.”
On the rest of the league. First, the East —
Van Gundy likes New York largely due to the acquisitions of Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose. “I love the addition of Courtney Lee. I think he’s a good glue player. So I think their starting lineup is very formidable. Their depth is a work in-progress.”
Jackson said of Miami, despite the losses of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, “I expect them to still be fighting for a playoff spot in the East and have a legitimate chance.” He also likes Indiana: “That’s a dangerous team that’s loaded and has increased their depth and to me that’s a team to watch.”
“I think Indiana had a great off-season with player additions,” said Van Gundy. “I’m on record, I thought — I don’t understand letting Frank Vogel go. I think he did an unbelievable job there. But I think Nate McMillan is an outstanding coach, and did a fine job for Frank as an assistant, and his Seattle and Portland teams were difficult to play against because he had them playing at a high level of intensity on a nightly basis. I think he’ll do a fine, fine job.”
And the West—
“I love watching teams develop, so for me like the Timberwolves, the [Utah] Jazz — I love watching teams like that who maybe have not had the type of success but are trying to put it together and are hungry. They are not jaded,” stated Van Gundy. He sees Houston winning “between 45-and-50-some, low 50s. I think they are going to be an absolute juggernaut on offense.”
Jackson added on the Rockets, “It was a great move putting the ball in the hands of James Harden, and because of that, he would be my pick for MVP of the league because obviously he can score. He’s an exceptional passer, and I think adding those shooters around, their numbers will be off the charts.”
Van Gundy also points out that Oklahoma City will be fine, mainly because the Thunder still has Russell Westbrook. “They have great front court rebounding strength, and Westbrook. I think Westbrook will have a great year. If they win 45-plus games this year, it will be a heck of an accomplishment for them. I think they are a playoff team, but you can’t underestimate the body blow that losing [Kevin] Durant is.”
Finally, Van Gundy joked, “I don’t start the Warriors at 0-0. I start them at 82-0, and whatever the few games that they lose, we’ll just mark it down as they go along. This idea that it will take a while for [the team to fit Kevin Durant in], I disagree with that. Great players like Durant, they can fit into any team. I don’t think you need to worry about them.”
“It’s not rocket science,” added Jackson.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.