More parity, more possibilities
A fairy-tale ending is attainable if teams can see it
BY DAVID THORPE
Jason was nervous. He knew the director wanted someone different for his supporting role. Though he had achieved success as a player on stage, he had little screen experience. Now he was about to shoot his first scene with the film’s star—one of Hollywood’s most bankable leading men.
He grew even more unsettled when, as makeup artists readied them for the camera, the star—already two weeks into shooting—told him: “Get ready, because I don’t know what movie we’re making here.”
Jason asked the star what that meant. “You’ll see,” the star replied.
But neither could see then that they were about to make their mark on movie history.
With NBA training camp just over a month away, countless stars will be on training tables having similar conversations with their supporting cast. The next few months are murky, after all. But if someone can imagine what lies beyond the blur, they can share a vision that elevates a group of 25 or so players and coaches from uninspiring squad to surprising contender, maybe even to out-of-nowhere champion. It just takes someone to see it, and it doesn’t hurt to have the time to try different things.
There’s a lot to dislike about playing 82 games between October and April, even if you agree with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who says the long season has nothing to do with late-season injuries. Setting aside the problematic number of games, the calendar span of the NBA season can be a blessing for executives and coaches, who have the time to install—and then tweak—plans that lead to more wins. Teams can more easily weather drastic changes to their roster, systems, or both.
The point is, you have to envision the outcome before you can make the right changes.
For instance, early last season Jayson Tatum struggled so mightily that many were suggesting he and Jaylen Brown were flat-out incompatible. (We disagreed, then watched as the Celtics dominated the second half and marched into the NBA Finals.) But Tatum and Brown were only part of the story: Ime Udoka dramatically changed the Celtics’ future mid-season when he adjusted their defensive strategy to give Robert Williams III more freedom to roam the court and block shots. The trade-deadline addition of veteran Derrick White also proved hugely valuable down the stretch.
The 2022-2023 season will feature more potential champions than any season in distant memory. That’s why, as they peer into the cloudy crystal ball of summer, more team execs and coaches need to visualize what their teams could become by next spring. With the right cast, the right coach, the right system, and the right amount of luck, the NBA might be crowning the most unlikely team as its newest champion.
I’ll admit, it’s a counterintuitive notion.
Let’s think about it another way: Years ago, a professional golfer told me that—in a tournament—it’s better to be down eight strokes in second place than to be down four strokes and tied for fifth. In the former, if you play well and the leader struggles, your chances of winning greatly increase. In the latter, you might be closer on the scorecard, but you’re not the only one knocking on that door.
This season, there are no superteams like the Heatles or the Durant-fortified Dubs. Instead, there are a dozen or more possible champions.
Wait a second, Coach … Doesn’t that mean this season has more in common with the less desirable golf scenario?
Yep. Allow me to explain.
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