With the advent of real, actual NBA preseason basketball, fans get to flip their calendars to the 2017-2018 season and start gearing up for one of the more anticipated campaigns of the last decade. As always, at Knicks at Night, we look ahead and break down the upcoming year, not by the quality of each team’s roster, but by how entertaining each should be to watch on a nightly basis. With nearly half the league’s All-Stars changing homes over the summer, there’s a lot more variability in these rankings and a lot of exciting, new situations to monitor. There’s never been a better time to plunk down that 100 bucks or so for the league’s premier subscription service, but also never a harder time choosing who to watch on a given night. To help answer that question… here are your Fourth Annual League Pass Watchability Rankings!
It’s Born Ready time baby!
With Paul George gone in one of the more unexpected superstar trades of the last few seasons (and maybe only the 2nd or 3rd most unexpected of the summer), Indiana has gone all-in on some kind of weird, bizarro team of overpaid role players and painfully average talent. Hoosiers star Victor Oladipo, the perpetually vanilla Thaddeus Young, and Mr. Born Ready himself make this the third straight year you look at Indiana’s roster and wonder how they could have possibly used up the salary cap on this collection of players. (As a quick aside, can we never forget that Lance Stephenson did that in an EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS GAME?? And the look on Lebron’s face afterward? It’s shocking the dude still has a spot in the league).
Anyway, back to the Pacers. At a time when superstar players are jumping around the league like drunk teenagers at the combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, at a time when the best teams look more insurmountable than they have at any point over the past decade, and at a time when the basketball pipeline has promised ANOTHER excellent draft after a super-hyped 2017 class prepares to enter the league, Indiana decided to double down on mediocrity and chase the playoffs in the aftermath of being forced to deal away the best player in franchise history since Reggie Miller (not counting Jermaine O’Neal for this one).
IT WOULD HAVE BEEN SO EASY TO TANK. Trade away Thad Young, who still has value around the league due to his scoring and defensive versatility. Build the team around Myles Turner, still young and just coming into his third season . See if you have a real player in 23 year old Glenn Robinson III, winner of the worst Slam Dunk contest in recent memory. Keep your cap space for next summer when the entire league is strapped for cash and add a top-5 pick to your roster. Sounds pretty good for the direction of your team’s franchise doesn’t it?
On the other hand, that never seemed to be a part of first-year GM Kevin Pritchard’s plan. Say what you want about Oladipo’s skill level versus any of the assets Boston may have been offering for PG-13, but Indiana simply did not prioritize draft considerations in their decision to move George. They got younger, to be sure, and Oladipo still does have the upside to become a league average starter at only 25 years old. Trading CJ Miles to Toronto for Cory Joseph gives them another younger, solid role player while a mid-tier deal for Bojan Boganovich should give them a reliable rotation piece and some scoring off the bench. There’s just nothing here that inspires any excitement, though, and if featuring all of these mediocre players cuts into Turner’s development, the Pacers should really end up regretting this summer.
The sad thing about all these transactions is that they’ll probably work. For how much we complain every year about the ridiculous discrepancy between the conferences, the chasm grew even large over the offseason, to an almost ludicrous extent. Pretty much all of the star players have migrated West and those Eastern Conference playoff spots are wide open for the taking. The Pacers may have built a team around boring, B- talent, but in the East that could be good enough for the damn 6 seed. And, if that’s the case, they should manage to be the most boring, B- first round playoff exit of the postseason.