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NBA

Sideline Spice’s 19-20 NBA Love and Loathe

It’s the start of the 2019-20 NBA season, and now that the Warriors dynasty has officially been broken up, this is the most excitement going into a season that I can remember since the Heatles became a thing.

With both conferences wide open for a change, lots of fans are feeling confident about their team’s respective chances at glory, whether it comes in the form of getting to the playoffs for the first time in ages, or winning the ultimate prize. However, lost in that unbridled wide-eyed optimism of homers everywhere is the fact that each and every team is flawed in some way or another, without exception. I guarantee you that each and every one of your teams has the potential to suck. Unless you’re a San Antonio Spurs fan, who while aren’t close to being title favourites this year, may never suck in my lifetime, due to having made some sort of deal with a higher power (or the devil) in order to remain competitive every damn year.

In the interest of capturing as accurate a broad picture of all 30 NBA teams as possible, my colleague Ryan and I will be saying something we love and loathe about each and every team. In the interest of giving us both the chance to spew bile and vitriol, I’ll be saying something I loathe about each Eastern Conference team and something I love about each Western Conference team. Naturally, Ryan will be doing the reverse. Without further ado, let’s get to it!

Atlanta Hawks
• Love:
This offense should be electric under the control of second year studs Trae Young and John Collins, who should both make leaps on what were already great seasons, particularly post all star break.

• Loathe:
Where is the defense on this team going to come from? Rookie De’Andre Hunter comes in with a fearsome lockdown reputation, but after that? For all their offensive talents, John Collins and Trae Young are human sieves. It’s tough when your two most gifted offensive talents also happen to be close to the worst defenders in the league at their respective positions.

Boston Celtics
• Love:
Young talent led by Tatum and Brown has the opportunity to bounce back in year three, free from the confines of Kyrie Irving and under the different kind of leadership brought by new star point guard Kemba Walker.

• Loathe:
Their young talent either remained stagnant or took a step back last year, and as likeable as he is, Kemba Walker is a step down from Kyrie Irving. Relying on young, unproven players like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum to take a leap in order to be a contender is a risky proposition.

Brooklyn Nets
• Love:
Finally have the stars that they have been searching for since the team moved to Brooklyn in the form of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, to lead an already deep roster.

• Loathe:
One of those aforementioned stars won’t suit up next year, and there’s a big risk that he’s never going to be the same player that he was pre-Achilles tear. Also, there’s a legitimate fear that Kenny Atkinson will give the bulk of the centre minutes to the over-the-hill DeAndre Jordan, rather than the promising young Jarrett Allen.

Charlotte Hornets
• Love:
Michael Jordan and the Charlotte Hornets are arguably the most likely to have the best shot at next years #1 pick. PJ Washington and Dwayne Bacon both look like nice finds.

• Loathe:
The fact that Terry Rozier is legitimately your best player going into the year. This is far and away the worst roster in the NBA, and I don’t think it’s particularly close.

Chicago Bulls
• Love:
Zach Lavine and Lauri Markkanen are both healthy and lead a roster that got deeper over the second half of last year, with the addition of the previously under appreciated Wizards Otto Porter Jr. and Tomas Satoransky.

• Loathe:
Jim Boylen is one of the objectively worst coaches in the NBA. Despite having a steady starting caliber point guard in Tomas Satoransky and a bright young prospect in Coby White, watch him give someone like Kris Dunn bulk minutes. Also, I bet that he’ll once again try his best to find excuses to bench exciting sophomore center Wendell Carter Jr.

Cleveland Cavaliers
• Love:
Kevin Love is healthy.

• Loathe:
If Kevin Love ceases to be healthy like he often does, this offense is going to be relying on Colin Sexton to get points. Yikes.

Dallas Mavericks
• Love:
Doncic is entering his second year, and this year he has a fully rested and fully healthy Kristaps Porzingis by his side. If those two find the on-court chemistry that Rick Carslile is hoping for, this could be a dark-horse playoff team in the West as soon as this year.

• Loathe:
The Unicorn is seemingly back and better than ever, but will enter the new year under heavy load management, Dwight Powell is already injured and there are questions about whether Delon Wright’s excellent end to last year as a spot starter last year were simply a flash in the pan after a poor preseason.

Dallas Mavericks sophomore Luka Doncic is poised to push his team to playoff contention. (Tom Fox / Dallas News)

Denver Nuggets
• Love:
The deepest roster in the NBA just got deeper with the addition of Jerami Grant. They’re coming off a #2 seed, their two best players (Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray) haven’t even reached their primes yet, and the Warriors are not the dynasty they once were. They should be amongst the favourites to come out of the west.

Loathe:
Jokic may be one of the best young stars in the NBA, but unlike his other superstar counterparts, he can still be too passive and deferential in key moments. As mentioned this is a deep roster, and Jokic needs to cement himself as its true leader.

Detroit Pistons
• Love:
Blake Griffin played 75 games last season at a near all-NBA level and will be entering the new year aiming to improve on both his performance and health. Andre Drummond is still not in his theoretical prime and has shown big improvement year on year, particularly with his free throw shooting, the biggest weakness to what is otherwise a dominant all round game. Could three pointers be next?

• Loathe:
Although they’re far from the worst roster in the NBA, is there a franchise with less hope for the future than Detroit? They have the horrifying combination of zero cap space coupled with a ceiling of a 7th seed team. They remind me of the pre-process Philadelphia 76ers, who kept being just good enough to never get good draft picks.

Golden State Warriors
• Love:
With the absence of Kevin Durant, the ball will once again be primarily in the hands of Steph Curry. Last time this was the case, he went on to be the unanimous MVP in one of the greatest single seasons in NBA history. D’Angelo Russell will fit this system like a glove, and after being a favourite for so long, being an underdog will suit chippy guys like Draymond Green just fine.

• Loathe:
D’Angelo might theoretically fit this system like a glove, but is it a winning glove? The Warriors biggest question mark for a long time hovers over the defense, specifically, how is said defense going to replace the dominant wing presence of either Klay Thompson or Kevin Durant?

Houston Rockets
• Love:
There’s a fear that Westbrok and Harden can’t coexist in the same backcourt, but people are forgetting that the last time they were together, they were an NBA finals team. Mike D’Antoni is an offensive wizard, there is no better coach in the NBA at figuring out how to maximise the strengths of this dynamic pairing.

• Loathe:
The questions surrounding the impact new addition Russell Westbrook is going to have on an offense that was already the most iso dominant, high risk-high reward in the league, without even mentioning the potential effect he may have on an already questionable defense.

Win or lose, James Harden and Russell Westbrook are definitely the most polarizing star tandem in the NBA this season. (Clutchpoints)

Indiana Pacers
• Love:
This team is surprisingly deep, and with the additions of Malcolm Brogdon and the professional scorer TJ Warren, has talent at almost every position, even with the recovering Victor Oladipo not set to return for another few months.

• Loathe:
This roster may be deep, but with Oladipo coming off a serious injury, they probably don’t have that star that puts them on the same level as the real contenders in the East. Unless you’re historically good defensively like the 03-04 Detroit Pistons, it is very hard to be a serious contender without a top 15 player in the league on your roster.

LA Clippers
Love:
A 48 win team just went and got the best free agent on the market as well as a top 3 MVP candidate from the year prior. And they did this without sacrificing too much of their depth. The combination of elite top end talent, strong depth and excellent coaching means that the Clippers are probably the favourites for the 2019-20 NBA title.

• Loathe:
This team gave up a lot of pieces from a team that performed above expectations a year ago to sign megastars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the latter of whom is returning from a major shoulder injury. They’ll now have a large target on their backs as one of the title favourites, a lot of pressure for a franchise that has never won a title.

LA Lakers
• Love:
Finally, we get to see what Anthony Davis will look like with another superstar. He’s put up historical numbers as a lone soldier in New Orleans for the most part (no disrespect to Jrue Holiday and pre-achilles injury Boogie Cousins), and now gets to play with one of the two greatest players of all time in LeBron James. One of the early title favourites.

• Loathe:
The fear of an Anthony Davis injury, with rumours already of a thumb injury leaving AD out of the lineup (fortunately untrue), Lakers fans and AD stakeholders are going to be nervous all year for an injury that always seems to be just around the corner for the franchise’s new cornerstone.

Memphis Grizzlies
Love:
This has the potential to be one of the most exciting teams in basketball. Brandon Clarke and Ja Morant have both been incredibly impressive in the preseason, Jaren Jackson Jr has the chance to be one of the premiere two way players in the game and Jonas Valanciunas finally showcased his incredible potential after being traded to Memphis last season.

Loathe:
This still feels like a team in flux after moving long standing franchise cornerstone Mike Conley to Utah. Yes it has some great young talent, but where is the veteran leader to guide this young core through its developmental phase? Also, who are their floor spacers?

Miami Heat
• Love:
Despite being a magnet for drama, Jimmy Butler is a two way stud. Bam Adebayo has been given the opportunity to show his skills as the team’s starting centre free from Hassan Whiteside and Tyler Herro is showing serious skills as an off ball sniper on a team that will desperately need one.

• Loathe:
This is a slightly better version of Detroit, in that they have a limited ceiling and no real cap flexibility. They have some nice pieces, but Jimmy Butler is going to eventually get frustrated at having to once again shoulder almost the entire offensive load a lot of nights.

Milwaukee Bucks
• Love:
Giannis Antetokounmpo is another year closer to his theoretical peak, Splash Mountain is back, and the reigning MVP’s road to through the East is seemingly as easy as it’s ever been.

Loathe:
Don’t underestimate the importance of Malcolm Brogdon to last year’s Bucks, losing his 50/40/90 shooting from the back court is going to hurt. Also, Giannis got exposed in the Raptors series, and will need to show that he’s a threat from outside if the Bucks are going to take the next step.

Minnesota Timberwolves
• Love:
Jarrett Culver looks like he’s going to be an absolute steal. Karl Anthony-Towns has flashed his all-NBA potential in the preseason and could be a dark-horse MVP candidate if he plays to his potential.

Loathe:
That Andrew Wiggins is still likely to be in the conversation for having the highest usage on a team that has a player the caliber Karl Anthony-Towns.

Can Karl-Anthony Towns become an MVP candidate this year? (Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY Sports)

New Orleans Pelicans
• Love:
Is this the most fun team in basketball? Seeing these Pelicans fly up and down the court in preseason with youthful exuberance would put a smile on just about anyone’s face. Zion looks to be the real deal, and this core could be really scary in a few years.

• Loathe:
Unfortunately with the recent news, the thing I feared most about the New Orleans Pelicans has come to pass, with rookie superstar Zion Williamson set to miss 6-8 weeks after undergoing surgery on a damaged meniscus.

New York Knicks
• Love:
A young roster led by rookie RJ Barrett is going to have a lot of opportunity to grow together, without the usual mess of midrange stars of the past few years.

• Loathe:
The worst run organisation in the NBA isn’t going to change overnight. There’s about a million centres on the roster, and if I was a betting man, my bet is that David Fizdale is going to give a lot of minutes to guys that probably shouldn’t be getting them. The beauty of the Knicks is that while I don’t know how they’ll do it, they almost always find a way to mess a season up. It’s truly remarkable.

Oklahoma City Thunder
• Love:
A franchise that was getting stale and repeatedly bounced in the playoffs has rebooted, with very promising second year guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and about a million draft picks. They have a lot of bites of the cherry to make something out of these picks, and they’ve shown in the past that they’re very good at drafting.

Loathe:
Don’t let the assist numbers fool you, the Thunder have swapped one aging iso dominant point guard with high assist totals for an ever older iso dominant point guard with high assist totals, except this one also has greater injury issues. Oh, and they might also be looking to trade him already.

Orlando Magic
• Love:
Vucevic is back in town after his best season in the NBA, and his team made one of the more high-upside additions last season, in the form of former #1 overall pick and dark horse Most Improved Player Award contender Markelle Fultz.

• Loathe:
Was last season this roster’s peak? Vucevic was an all-NBA player last year, but there are a lot of question marks around his supporting cast on the offensive side of the ball . If they want to be more than a low playoff seed in the East, someone aside from Vooch needs to be able to consistently score.

Philadelphia Sixers
• Love:
Easily one of the deepest rosters in the NBA that can hurt you in anyway from almost anywhere on the court. Ben Simmons can shoot threes now.

• Loathe:
Don’t listen to my colleague, Ben Simmons still can’t shoot threes. Until he becomes even half a threat from the outside, good coaches like Nick Nurse, Mike Budenholzer and Brad Stevens will come up with playoff schemes to take advantage of that. Also, their best player is an injury waiting to happen.

Phoenix Suns
• Love:
For all their recent struggles on the court, this roster is absolutely loaded with potential. Devin Booker could be a 30ppg scorer, Ayton was quietly very good last year, Kelly Oubre Jr saw a career resurgence after being traded from Washington, and they finally have an actual point guard with the acquisition of Ricky Rubio. This team could upset some very good teams this year, and could become a playoff team faster than you think.

Loathe:
The growing fear that Devin Booker’s still young career is going to be increasingly affected by niggling injuries, and the even greater fear that if it’s not, that the career of one of the NBA’s greatest pure offense players may be wasted on a perennial lottery team.

Devin Booker could win a scoring title in the not-so-distant future. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Portland Trail Blazers
• Love:
Last year’s Western Conference finalists retain their elite backcourt of Damien Lillard and CJ McCollum. This year, they’ve signed guys like Hassan Whiteside to cover the injury of Jusuf Nurkic, and one of my favourite young talents in Zach Collins finally appears to have a chance to showcase his immense upside. Also, keep an eye out for Anfernee Simons – he has the ability to be a stud off the bench.

• Loathe:
That the roster feels almost identical to the last five years of consistently good but not great Portland teams. That while the addition of Hassan Whiteside might be a nice stopgap for the return Jusuf Nurkic, his arrival may not move the needle enough to truly threaten those at the stop of the stacked Western Conference.

Sacramento Kings
• Love:
Their back court is very talented, led by Buddy Hield and De’Aaron Fox. Not many teams will be able to contain those two on a given night. Coupled with the development of second year big man Marvin Bagley and the signing of veteran Dewayne Dedmon, and the Kings actually have enough talent to make a playoff push for the first time in what feels like one million years.

• Loathe:
Buddy Hield had an incredible season last year and was the perfect compliment to the mostly non-shooting De’Aaron Fox, but there are questions around whether last years performance can and will be built on after coming mostly out of nowhere. The Kings also appear to be on the outside looking in at a loaded Western Conference, where their relative inexperience may be too difficult to overcome in the playoff race.

San Antonio Spurs
Love:
When there’s Gregg Popovich, there’s hope. The Spurs are what I like to call the anti-Knicks, in that no matter how weak or flawed their roster seems to be, they’ll always somehow make the playoffs. The return of Dejounte Murray gives them another long, elite defender to pair with Derrick White, which will make life tough on other guards.

• Loathe:
Other than the obvious Popovich staple of an aging roster that over relies on the classic two pointer, the Spurs two best young talents in Derrick White and Dejounte Murray play the same position, and their team still doesn’t know how to effectively play them together.

Toronto Raptors
• Love:
Siakam was a monster in minutes without Kawhi Leonard in their NBA Championship winning season, and the team is now his to lead.

• Loathe:
Losing the reigning finals MVP is a possibly insurmountable blow. Siakam was a nice surprise last year, but he was also flying under the radar. Now that he’s the main focus of defenses, his efficiency is set to take a massive hit, and I’m not sure that there’s anyone else on the roster that can properly fill the Leonard-sized void.

Will Pascal Siakam be a viable number one option for the reigning champs? (Frank Gunn/CP)

Utah Jazz
• Love:
The Jazz could be the most underrated team in basketball this year. The West’s best defensive unit struggled at times on offense last year, but has made a huge upgrade at the point guard position with the trade for Mike Conley, and has acquired sniper Bojan Bogdanovic. Donovan Mitchell has all the pieces around him to make the fabled third year leap, leaving this team poised for a deep playoff run.

• Loathe:
Utah is still not famous for Jazz. But seriously, this roster still projects to be one of the slowest in basketball, even with the underrated addition of Mike Conley, and despite arguably annual overachievement, eventually that is going to catch up to them in an increasingly pace hungry NBA.

Washington Wizards
Love:
This is Bradley Beal’s team now, and the young guard is going to have every opportunity to cement himself as one of the best players in the NBA.

Loathe:
Outside of Beal and promising young big man Thomas Bryant, this organisation is a dumpster fire. Scott Brooks is behind the times as a coach, as evidenced by his completely head-scratching rotations at times last year. John Wall is also out for the foreseeable future and happens to be the owner of the worst contract in the NBA. All signs to this team being amongst the cellar dwellers in the East.