We’ve just finished counting down all 30 NBA teams in order of their goodness—a perfectly logical thing to count down as the NBA regular season finally kicked off. However, I believe there to be another Power Rankings nearly as important to discuss as the NBA season approaches: the League Pass teams. When facing a decision between watching Celtics-Bulls or Kings-Hornets on your League Pass on a Wednesday night, which should you go with? Sure, we know which matchup will have more likely post-season relevance — unless you’re really, really feeling Jimmer in his debut season — but that’s just one of many factors when deciding a the LP-worthiness of a pair of teams. There’s also youth, excitement, intrigue, pure watchability — which Mike Prada of SB Nation wonderfully documented — and of course, uniforms. How will you know which game to watch?
Well, here’s a hint: Go with teams closer to the top of this list than the bottom. Let’s run it down.
30. Toronto Raptors
Sorry to do it to the hometown boys, but when your big LP sales pitch is “Look, Andrea Bargnani is actually gonna try to play defense now!,” it’s officially a rebuilding year. Might get some nice DeMar dunks, and everyone loves a good laugh at Jamaal Magloire’s expense, but not even the insanity of Jack Armstrong can save this team from the LP cellar. (Hope for the future, though — another high draft pick and the stateside debut of Jonas Valenciunas might make this a must-watch team in a year’s time.)
29. Orlando Magic
I can’t deny the inexplicably comedic appeal of watching Glen “Big Baby” Davis wearing a non-Celtics uniform, but otherwise, watching the Hey Dwight, We’re Ready to Be Heartbroken Magic seems like an incredibly losing proposition this year. They could jump in the rankings if they trade Dwight sooner than later — see another team far down this list for an example of why — but for now, it looks like the Magic are intent on making everyone miserable this season by holding onto him until it’s too late for anything fun to result from his leaving. Bummer.
28. Portland Trail Blazers
This is maybe (definitely) unfair to the Blazers and their highly respectable level of play and watchability, but I’m just done with the drama. Every year, it’s a new tragedy with these guys, and while I feel for their fanbase and while yay for Gerald Wallace and LaMarcus Aldridge and Jamal Crawford and an almost-certain fourth-straight first-round playoff exit, I just can’t take it anymore from a team that I don’t have to root for. If Greg Oden should actually return to the lineup and play consistently towards the end of the season, they could maybe win me back, but … yeah. Can’t imagine too many people taking that bet, and that’s kind of the point, isn’t it?
27. Detroit Pistons
Congrats to Joe Dumars on keeping the core of this boring-ass, 20-something win team together for the next season and beyond. The only reason to watch this team last year was for the bizarrely compelling Tracy McGrady, Point Guard Experiment, and now that he’s gone, all that we’re left with are some marginally pretty post moves from Greg Monroe and some legitimate intrigue from potential Steal of the Draft point guard Brandon Knight. (Have you seen that guy shoot threes? It’s Kevin Martin-esque. Weird.) Still, I’m tempted to make a weird and arbitrary pronouncement like “No team with Rodney Stuckey and Tayshaun Prince making a combined $15 mil a year will ever be a Top 25 League Pass team.” Close enough, anyway.
26. Phoenix Suns
Judging from last night’s immolation at the Sixers’ hands, I’m not sure the perennial League’s Most Entertaining Team even deserves to be this high. And God help them if they trade Nash for spare parts and draft picks. Ranking them No. 30 will be far too kind.
25. San Antonio Spurs
Another year with Pop, Timbo and the boys. The most compelling storyline this year, beyond the always-combustible presence of T.J. Ford, is pondering how Richard Jefferson manages to look his teammates in the eye after he was bribed into opting out of his contract, re-signed for less money and more years, posited as a likely amnesty case, and then held onto when his half-dozen or so potential free-agent replacements all said “pass.” Now that the Spurs even burned their Not Dead Yet regular season last year, what’s left? The first-ever Timbo/Pop disaster season? I’m not holding my breath. Put me down for 42 wins, zero interesting players or subplots and just a handful of non-nationally-televised games watched.
24. Charlotte Bocbats
If you were looking for a sleeper League Pass team this year, the Bobcats just might be it. A couple fun rookies to watch in Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo, an almost-undeniable-once-healthy starting gig for Tyrus Thomas (only took five years) and of course, the entertainment-guaranteed Boris Diaw at center experiment. Still have to respect the Bobcats’ historical boringness and rank them no higher than the mid-20s — and after all, we’re still talking about a team with Gerald Henderson and Corey Maggette as the starting wings — but the potential is definitely there.
23. Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks managed another impressive tread-water off-season this year, usually a guarantee for a low League Pass ranking. But they do still have LP demigod Josh Smith on the roster, as well as a quality “Is that guy actually good?” curiosity case in the form of young’n point guard Jeff Teague. Plus, with Teague unproven and Kirk Hinrich injured to start the year, you know who’s sitting there on the bench just waiting for his chance to jump in the starting lineup. I smell Year Two of the Tracy McGrady, Point Guard Experiment!
22. Cleveland Cavaliers
Pretty much a No. 1 overall pick respect ranking. Sure, Kyrie Irving might only have been the sixth or seventh best player in this year’s draft, but he’s still a No. 1, which means we have to have opinions about him, which means we should probably watch him some to form said opinions. Besides that, it’s pretty much the same shitty, unwatchable Cavs team from last year, though at least as the year progresses and Antwan Jamison and/or Anderson Varejao get shipped elsewhere, it’ll officially stop reminding anyone of the core of the team that used to have that other guy on it. And Omri! Can’t wait to see the Star of David flag getting rocked throughout the Q.
21. Houston Rockets
Cut the Rockets in half and you might have two awesome League Pass teams, cram them together and it’s a respectably mediocre one at best. The pieces are all there, but there’s just too many of them, and by the time you’re like “Woah, Jonny Flynn, I forgot he was even on this team!” he’s already being subbed out for Goran Dragic. A Rockets dispersal draft could make 12 NBA teams a lot more LP-worthy, but on their own, it just doesn’t quite work out.
20. Milwaukee Bucks
When my father first heard that Stephen Jackson was somehow on the Bucks now, he assumed it was due to some sort of league-mandated punishment. I don’t disagree with his logic, but in any event, Captain Jack is exactly what that team needed, not necessarily in terms of actual basketball contributions, but in terms of just Mixing Shit Up. Whether he’s gunning for triple-doubles or quibbling about his contract extension, he’s gonna absolutely take over that team from a personality standpoint, and boy did it need to be taken over in that department. I suspect that Brandon Jennings and Andrew Bogut may have All-Star seasons, as an inexplicable and possibly totally random result.
19. New Jersey Nets
Like Lisa Simpson listening to jazz, you almost have to watch this team for the players who aren’t on it. How would Dwight Howard fit in here? When is Andrei Kirilenko gonna show up? Who’s gonna be the first guy who actually confirms that having Mikhail Prokhorov, Jay-Z and the city of Brooklyn on your side is the competitive advantage that everyone always assumed it would be? In the meantime, a year of watching a confused Deron Williams trying to make sense of the bizarre and mostly awful supporting cast he has suddenly been riddled with (Kris Humphries? Mehmet Okur? DeShawn Stevenson?) will be compelling enough drama.
18. Golden State Warriors
The Ellis-Curry backcourt is certainly a proud League Pass staple, though perhaps a little less so this year with the Chris Paul Trade That Wasn’t hanging over Stephen Curry and the significantly more serious sexual harassment scandal hanging over Monta Ellis. Plus, someone has to really suck out West, and many indications are that the Warriors will be one of those someones. That’s not necessarily a kiss of death for their League Pass potential, but we’ve seen this team be bad plenty of times already.
17. Boston Celtics
I still love the individual guys on this team too much to rank them much lower than this, though this could undoubtedly be a tough year to be a Celtics fan. They basically have no bench to speak of, and though the Bass/Big Baby trade may help them from a basketball standpoint, it kills their League Pass depth. It might not be quite as disastrous a season as their analogue should be having out West, but that just hurts their LP potential more, somehow.
16. Utah Jazz
The Jazz appear to have retooled decently from the Deron Williams era, and with a couple intriguing young bigs in Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter and now also with Josh Howard’s crazy ass in tow, they appear to be building the core of a promising League Pass team as well. They’d still be well-advised to trade one of their superfluous tall guys for some wing players more interesting than CJ Miles and Raja Bell, but after years (decades?) of being one of the league’s most boringly solid teams, there appear to be heady days of volatile mediocrity ahead.
15. Washington Wizards
Year two of John Wall should be a good time, and supporting knuckleheads Andray Blatche, Nick Young and JaVale McGee already appear to be back to their lovable stat-chasing ways. But really, the Wizards would be too soul-suckingly depressing a franchise to rank this high on the League Pass list if not for one thing: Those awesome retro unis. You could trot out a starting five of Derek Fisher, Anthony Parker, Marvin Williams, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Jeff Foster in those hot threads and it’d still be something close to must-watch television. With the high-flying, 15-to-20-win Wizards occupying ‘em, so much the better.
14. Philadelphia 76ers
Admitted prejudice here as a Sixers fan, but I do think the team should be fun to watch this year. As one of the few playoff teams in the East last year that actually retained the entirety of their roster core, the Sixers should actually be one of the more fluid, well-oiled (can you be both fluid and well-oiled? Probably not) teams in the league in this crazy, super-compressed, strike-shortened season. Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner should be both hopping up a level play-wise (Holiday to All-Star contention, Turner to basic professional competency), and Adrian Wojnarowksi believes Spencer Hawes to be an MIP candidate (shockingly plausible after the first two games). Plus, their retro getups are still pretty hot, too. Check ‘em out, why don’t you?
13. Oklahoma City Thunder
Eh. Should probably be higher, but where’s the mystery with this team? Yeah, a full year of the Ibaka/Perkins frontcourt, and some potential drama with the increasingly tumultuous Westbrook-Durant dynamic, but it seems to me like any actual intrigue with this squad won’t begin until the postseason. In the regular season, they’ll win close to 50 games, Durant and Westbrook will each have some incredible individual performances, and they’ll basically cruise until April, when shit will officially get real. Can’t wait to see what happens then, but in the meantime, there’re teams that are more compelling. (12 of them, arguably.)
12. Denver Nuggets
The “No Sticky Hands” Nuggets were certainly one of the most pleasant surprises of late last season, and with a lot of the gang back — though unfortunately, no J.R., Wilson Chandler or K-Mart, at least for another few months — we should be about to witness the strength of streetball knowledge once again. Hollinger even sees them as a potential finals contender, though to me they just seem like the most fun of the obviously second-tier teams, which there’s certainly no shame in. There are teams that are more fascinating from a personality and/or potential standpoint, but if you were to bet on one team that wasn’t going to play a single boring game this season, the Nugs would have to be the smart-money wager.
11. Chicago Bulls
Thunder East (slash Midwest), basically. A for-real contender about which we feel like we already know pretty much everything until the postseason. At least the Bulls have a mid-major personnel change to boast, the upgrade to Rip Hamilton at the shooting guard spot, which could be akin to the Mavs adding Tyson Chandler at center last season as a relatively under-hyped roster move that nonetheless turns an almost-there team into a fully-arrived one. Or Rip might just be toast after not having played a meaningful game in three years, and Ronnie Brewer will be starting by February. It’s a legit subplot to follow, at least. Oh yeah, and a full year of Boozer-Noah. That’s supposed to be a good thing, right?
10. Dallas Mavericks
It’d be disrespectful to rank the defending champs out of the top 10 here, but it’s hard to put ‘em too much higher when they got blown out at home in their first two games and seemed like they were in a near-rebuilding year even before that. Losing Tyson Chandler, Caron Butler and J.J. Barea is sort of a bummer, and the Everyone a Year Older on an Already Old Roster thing doesn’t usually bode well for teams, in either real basketball or in League Pass terms. Still, they do have the German Moses and the Jet and the Matrix and lots of other cool old guys with awesome nicknames, including the Candy Man himself, newbie Lamar Odom. They’ll still be a fun watch, even if they won’t be as essential as most year-after teams would be.
9. New Orleans Hornets
Yeah, the champs get beaten out by the NBA-owned team that just traded away their best player. That’s largely a credit to primary trade return Eric Gordon — the second-most pissed off person in the league this year, beyond the guy on my No. 8 team — who should be on an absolute rampage this season in an effort to prove himself more a superstar than a trade chip, which I believe him to be well capable of doing. There’s a surprisingly solid and mostly watchable supporting core around him too, especially now that the Hornets have acquired backup point guard and League Pass superstar-in-waiting Greivis Vasquez, who I hope to be the starting point guard (for both the Hornets and possibly the Western Conference All-Stars) by the end of the year. I’ll probably watch twice as many Hornets games this year as I did any season when they had Chris Paul.
8. Los Angeles Lakers
A brief list of things Kobe Bean Bryant has to be pissed off about this season: the Lamar Odom raffle, the Chris Paul trade-nix, a sitting-duck new coach, last year’s embarrassing playoff sweep, the team’s big-ticket acquisitions of Troy Murphy and Josh McRoberts, getting questions about Ron Artest’s name change, the Clippers possibly being better than the Lakers, a half-dozen nagging injuries, another year of aging and an impending divorce. It’s been a relatively benign couple of years for Kobe, but we should get to see some quality old-school Dark Knight Kobe this year, definitely moreso than any season since ’07, possibly since his historically high-drama 2004. The rest of the team might be a total wreck, and that’s probably for the best anyway, but personally speaking, I won’t want to miss a single facial expression of Kobe’s in this sure-to-be-bananas season of his. Pity poor Mike Brown.
7. Indiana Pacers
Gotta love a team on the rise. The Pacers proved frisky at the end of last season, and made a couple off-season acquisitions (George Hill, David West) that seem to make sense out of the entire roster now. They’ll certainly be the best, most fun team this year (possibly ever?) to not have a single one of the top 30 players in the league dressing for them, and though that probably disqualifies them from legitimate title contention, who needs title contention when you have Tyler Hansbrough, Louis Amundson and an oddly gigantic Paul George? At the very least, they should guarantee a hell of a first round series against whatever team they end up matching up with in the East.
6. Memphis Grizzlies
Any NBA fan who watched a second of the playoffs last year is already well on the Grizzlies bandwagon (though, ahem, some of us have been on that bandwagon’s bandwagon since 2009), and there’s no real reason to jump off just yet. It’s gonna be a little weird to see the Grizzlies viewed as one of the league’s elite teams for the first time since ever, and the possibility for a letdown is certainly there, but with the Z-Bo/Gasol frontcourt kept in tact and Rudy Gay back in service, you have to think they’ll still be pretty damn good. Why they gave up on Greivis I don’t really understand — how many game-tying threes did Quincy Pondexter hit in OT of the playoffs last year, anyway? — but I’ll probably forgive in time.
5. Miami Heat
It seems pretty likely to me that as long as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are on the same team together, they’ll be a top five League Pass squad. The Heat are sort of in that Thunder-Bulls camp of Wake Us Up When You Get to the Playoffs, but it’s still just year two for these guys, and considering some of the semi-historic things we saw in year one, we’d be fairly foolish not to at least keep one eye on them at all times. Plus, Shane Battier, full years (maybe) of Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller, and a pretty good chance of Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole eventually comprising the world’s lamest starting point guard controversy. Lord, did I wish they had signed Samuel Dalembert, though. From his peerlessly frustrating time with the Sixers, I know for a fact that no team will ever win a title with Sammy on the twelve-man. It would have been fascinating to watch him destroy that team from the inside.
4. Sacramento Kings
There might not have been a more haphazardly assembled team of pretty good players in my time as an NBA fan. There’s no real weak link among the roster, but you look at it all together and it’s holy shit, Tyreke Evans, John Salmons and DeMarcus Cousins on the same team? With Marcus Thornton? And Jimmer Fredette??? The chances of them winning 20 games are fairly minuscule, the chances of coach Paul Wesphal surviving the season are even smaller, and the chances of them not getting into at least one altercation during a team flight are essentially non-existent. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if this Kings team set the regular-season record for most technicals received for fighting with a teammate (which, as far as I know, currently stands at “zero”). And the fact that this is all happening in Sacramento, of all places. You almost hope that the team moves next year, because how are they possibly gonna top this?
3. Los Angeles Clippers
I’m probably alone in this, and my highly disproportionate crush on Eric Gordon is largely to blame, but I found the Clippers to be a more compelling League Pass team before the Chris Paul trade. There’s something special in watching a young, organically built team come together and collectively take that next leap, from rebuilding to competing, from competing to contending. We saw it with the Thunder, we should have seen it with the Blazers, had Paul Allen not gotten drunk one night and pissed on the grave of Clyde Drexler, and I think we would have seen it with the Clippers this year. Instead, we’re probably going to see a Frankenstein Clippers team jump two levels at once, thanks to the Paul trade and a couple other smart signings, which will be more exciting but less satisfying. Don’t get me wrong, the No. 3 League Pass team is still a hell of an endorsement, and I might not miss more than five games this team plays all season. But without the trade, they would have been pushing for No. 1 on this list. Just sayin’.
2. New York Knicks
The Baron signing was the clincher. Year two of Amar’e-Melo would’ve gotten them in the top six or seven regardless — lest we forget, a superstar pairing whose potential is a lot less resolved than LeBron-Wade’s — and the Tyson Chandler acquisition ensured them top five status, but the real reason to watch the Knicks this year is Baron Davis. I still don’t really get why they didn’t keep him in L.A. (only cost them the No. 1 pick to ship his carcass out) and I’m not sure exactly why they needed to amnesty him in Cleveland (like they’re not gonna make a way-worse signing over the course of the CBA), but I’m glad that the cosmic forces of all living things have aligned to get Baron to the place where he belongs: Madison Square Garden. People will make a lot of “If he has ANYTHING left in the tank” qualifying statements, but I already know that he does. He wasn’t half bad with the Clippers last year, just vastly overpaid. If he’s that good and that healthy with the Knicks once he comes back, no reason why they shouldn’t be the most fun team to watch in the East. And if Time Warner Cable drops MSG in New York as they’re threatening to do, I might move to Canada.
1. Minnesota Timberwolves
Like there was any doubt. Not only is this obviously the best League Pass team this year — Bill Simmons, patron saint of this column, even agrees — but it might be the best of any year in recent memory. I mean, look at some of these names: Michael Beasley. Brad Miller. J.J. Barea. Darko Milicic. Derrick Williams. Kevin Love. Anthony Tolliver. Anthony Randolph. And oh yeah, one Ricard Rubio Vises, possibly the most-hyped international player since Yao Ming (and only about four-and-a-half feet shorter), in his first year of NBA action. And the craziest part is that J. Holly actually thinks they might be kinda good! I’ll believe that when I see it, and to a certain extent, it doesn’t even matter. A team with a roster this crazy could win 15, 30 or 45 games this year and be equally entertaining with all three totals. But holy hell, can you imagine if they end up pushing for a playoff spot? Would they be the most bandwagon-y eight seed in NBA history? They’d make the 2007 Warriors look like the 2009 Pistons (the year they traded for Iverson and got swept by the Cavs in the first round and were just generally super-duper-depressing). In other words, get the Duck Sauce and Shakira records ready. AHHHWOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!