1. Chasing a title, all the way to the Bay
The Golden State Warriors are the new guys in the black hats now that they’ve added free-agent signee Kevin Durant to a team that won a record 73 regular-season games last season. But it’s going to be hard to hate a team that played such beautiful basketball and now adds arguably the game’s most gifted offensive player. Forget any pursuit of the Warriors’ own record for wins.
All that matters now is whether they win a title. It’s not as certain as you might think, not with defending champion Cleveland two seasons ahead of them in continuity and not with a bench completely remade to make room for Durant’s max salary.
2. While one goes, the other stays
Durant left an Oklahoma City team that could have, should have upset Golden State in last spring’s playoffs, but Russell Westbrook stayed, signing an $85 million contract extension that will keep him there through 2019 and telling Sports Illustrated he was never going to leave, even if so many people expected he would when Durant — his partner but not nearly best friend — left town.
The Thunder is a title contender no more, but expect Westbrook to be as driven and competitive — as well as a triple-double threat nightly — as never before, and that’s saying something.
3. If they can do it….
A Chicago native and lifelong Cubs fan, New York Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek hopes his new team will find inspiration in his hometown team’s return to the World Series for the first time since 1945. The Cubs haven’t won the Series since 1908. The Knicks haven’t won an NBA title since 1973.
Eight NBA teams — nearly a quarter of the league — changed coaches after last season. The other new ones: Orlando’s Frank Vogel, Houston’s Mike D’Antoni, Washington’s Scott Brooks, Indiana’s Nate McMillan, Memphis’ David Fizdale, Sacramento’s Dave Joerger and the Timberwolves’ Tom Thibodeau.
4. A roll of the dice, far away from Vegas
If there’s a shortcut back out of the lottery, Hornacek’s Knicks and the Chicago Bulls think they can find it. Each team has remade itself since it missed last season’s playoffs — the Bulls by bringing star Dwyane Wade back home and the Knicks gambling big by trading for former Chicago MVP Derrick Rose and signing former Bulls star Joakim Noah. Both teams have enough talent and experience to reclaim past glories, if they can stay healthy. But don’t bet on it.
5. Talking the talk …
Kevin McHale is back. The former Wolves executive/coach isn’t back on the NBA sideline. Rather, he’s back where he might just be at his best: In front of a microphone. A year after Houston fired him just days into the season, McHale is back with TNT and NBA TV. He’ll do game commentary and be part of NBA TV’s Tuesday Fan Night studio crew. Is it back where he belongs or just a stop on his way to another coaching job in a game where he said it has become harder and harder to get players to put team first. “Would I ever coach again?” he asked. “It’d have to be the right situation, so never say never.”