I honestly can’t remember a year as loaded for League Pass teams as this one. The teams towards the top should be fun or whatever, but who cares about them. It’s the one towards the bottom that have me excited. My No. 30, lowest-ranked League Pass team still features three recent, intriguing lottery picks, one of the league’s most oddly exciting back-up point guards, a hilarious number of small forwards and a guy with alopecia. And that’s the least interesting team to watch in the NBA this year. Holy crap, there might not be five games total in an average week that you can afford to skip as a basketball fan this season!
Assuming you can’t maintain that kind of base-level schedule, however, some prioritizing might be in order. In which case, as we did last year, we encourage you to watch more of the League Pass teams towards the top of this list than the bottom. Yo, Slick, blow.
30. Detroit Pistons (Last Year: #27)
Yeah, I was talking about the Pistons up there. You could probably argue that all that stuff — mostly the lottery trio of Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight and Andre Drummond –means they should be a couple slots higher, but eh. It’s still the Pistons, a team that hasn’t been relevant in five seasons and wasn’t all that much fun even when they were good. If they prove that last season’s second-half surge was legit, then they can easily climb higher, but this team has been too lousy for too long to just be “entertainingly young” anymore.
29. Chicago Bulls (Last Year: #11)
Kept out of the bottom spot mostly out of respect, but there’s nothing worse on League Pass than a once-elite team downgraded to merely good status, as the Bulls appear to have been this year. If Derrick Rose was still around for the whole season, he’s exciting enough to bump them up a handful of spots on his own. But he’s out for most of the year, and as fun as Nate Robinson is to have around, he’s not quite the same thing. Bulls fans themselves don’t even seem too excited about watching this team this year, so why should we be? (Ed. note: Accurate.)
28. Orlando Magic (Last Year: #29)
This team could easily end up as the toughest to watch in the league — is there even a lottery pick on the entire roster besides J.J. Redick? — but I have a soft spot for year-after teams, and even though I won’t be so dense as to suggest this team could be a sneaky-good League Pass team, I imagine I’ll still end up watching my fair share of Jameer Nelson-Nic Vucevic pick-and-pops. Plus, of Moe Harkless and Andrew Nicholson, you just know one of those guys is gonna end up being good for some reason. Right?
27. San Antonio Spurs (Last Year: #25)
I’d have to check the non-existent archives for this column, but I’m willing to bet the Spurs haven’t ranked in the top 20 of this list once since 2005. (Maybe they coulda snuck to No. 18 or 17 that year they traded for Richard Jefferson — remember when we all thought that trade was a big deal?) Anyway, if the Spurs added a single interesting player or entertained a single interesting subplot this off-season, I sure as shit ain’t heard of that. Only reason they’re even this high is that the Spurs somehow turned into a decently fun team to watch the last two years, and Pop interviews (rare and sparse as they may be) are never less than essential viewing.
26. Cleveland Cavaliers (Last Year: #22)
There’s been some buzz about the Cavs as a potential League Pass power player, but I just don’t see it. Outside of Kyrie Irving, who I don’t even think is quite as breathtaking as most seem to (in the first 46 minutes of the game anyway), who on this team is fun to watch? Tristan Thompson has been disappointing, I couldn’t be less sold on Dion Waiters in his first season, and I still can’t stand the sight of Anderson Varejao or Boobie Gibson due to their association with the LeBron days. Besides, I hate to dispute with Grantland’s resident aesthete, but those unis are just straight blah. Unless Tyler Zeller ends up being weirdly compelling — not impossible — I can’t endorse heavy watching of these guys.
25. Portland Trail Blazers (Last Year: #28)
Things are looking up for the Blazers, who cut ties with both of their Ghosts of DNPs Past and added one of the most exciting rookies in the league (Damien Lillard) as well as a guy whose name sounds like it would make a great sandwich (Meyers Leonard). Both are unquestionably positive developments, but there’s still a little too much mediocre on this team, and extending the quintessentially uninteresting Nic Batum like they did is a League Pass Cap Space killer, assuming such a concept exists. Check back in a year or two, though.
24. Washington Wizards (Last Year: #15)
Why are the Wizards nine spots lower than last year? I don’t have a great answer, besides that the field is just stronger this year, the new retro unis aren’t quite as exciting in year two, and neither Nene nor Emeka Okafor will ever be as compelling a figure as JaVale McGee. John Wall and Bradley Beal should make a potent backcourt duo, but Wall is starting the season hurt, Beal doesn’t look like a difference-maker yet on his own, and somehow I feel this Wizards season is already over before it even begins.
23. Dallas Mavericks (Last Year: #10)
Not even the ’06 Heat got this unrecognizable this quickly, I don’t think. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as good teams need to add new parts to stay interesting, but there are so many new parts with this Mavs team over the last two seasons that it’s hard to tell what core, if any, they’re even augmenting, especially with Dirk on the shelf to begin the season. Excited for Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo getting fresh starts as starters once again, and it’s interesting to see the ’06 Clips of Chris Kaman and Elton Brand reunited in the frontcourt, but this team is suddenly badly lacking in League Pass identity.
22. Phoenix Suns (Last Year: #26)
Same deal as the Mavs, pretty much — too many spare parts, not enough of an identifiable core — but the Suns rank higher due to being totally free of the burden of expectation. If this team won 20 games this year (and they might), would anybody really mind? Seems unlikely, and in the meantime, I plan on enjoying Michael Beasley gunning for 35 every night and Goran Dragic and Marcin Gortat probably coming up with some weird sort of chest-bump routine or secret handshake or something. Plus, the attempted reclamation case of Wesley Johnson and tissue re-animation of Jermaine O’Neal will be fun little subplots. It’s better than Steve Nash waiting around to die, anyway.
21. Indiana Pacers (Last Year: #7)
The difference between being a young, exciting team and an established, but possibly low-upside team. The Pacers basically are trotting out the same team as in 2011-12, but having already won a playoff series and taken the Heat to six games, the Pacers need to keep improving to maintain our interest. And it’s suddenly not so easy to see them doing that. I maintain that this team should cut Danny Granger for League Pass reasons — they’d be infinitely more entertaining, if not necessarily more successful, without his inefficient, uninspiring 20 points a game mucking up the works.
20. Atlanta Hawks (Last Year: #23)
A different look this year without Joe Johnson, anyway, and there’s definitely potential for intrigue here, especially if Josh Smith and Al Horford can stay healthy all this season. But some words of wisdom from someone who watched nearly every game (and certainly every meaningful game) Lou Williams played in his career as a Philadelphia 76er: Lou Williams will not help your team win nearly as much as the experts seem to think he will. Yeah, yeah, I know what all the advanced stats say, but advanced stats don’t convince me why Lou Williams is underrated, Lou Williams convinces me why advanced stats are overrated. Just trust me on this.
19. Utah Jazz (Last Year: #16)
Always a trade away from vaulting a half-dozen spots or more on this list, but until then, they’re a solid middle-of-the-pack LP team with their surfeit of curious bigs and unexpected glut of M. Williamses. Speaking of trades: The Sports Guy dismissed this idea summarily, but I’ve been intrigued with it for almost a year now — Why not trade Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward for James Harden? I fail to see how that doesn’t make both teams better. Anyway, if the Jazz hold on to all four big guys until the end of the season, I’m filing a protest.
18. Memphis Grizzlies (Last Year: #6)
After being League Pass darlings for the better part of a half-decade, the Grizzlies are finally starting to lose their luster a little bit. Like Branch Rickey says, you always want to stop watching a League Pass team a year too early rather than a year too late. With their ceiling possibly having already been reached, it might be the beginning of the end for the Grizz. Still, Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Tony Allen … a team with that kind of roster can never be entirely non-entertaining.
17. Toronto Raptors (Last Year: #29)
Hey, the Raps could actually be watchable this year! Operation Steve Nash sadly fell short, but now there’s Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas in his stead, and with Andrea Bargnani back in the fold, there’s definite potential for entertaining basketball here. Landry Fields doesn’t help all that much, and Terrence Ross seems kinda whatever for a No. 8 pick, but I’ll give ‘em a shot, certainly. (Side note: After about a decade of having at least two unwatchable teams at any given point in time, the Atlantic Division is finally the most stacked LP division in basketball, with the Raps registering as by far the lowest at No. 17. Good for you, Northeast.)
16. Oklahoma City Thunder (Last Year: #13)
As with last year, OKC scores relatively low on this list by virtue of having a lot of nationally televised games, few new players or interesting subplots, and basically being shoo-ins for home court advantage in at least the first round of the playoffs. Curious to see what, if anything, the team can get out of Perry Jones III and Hasheem Thabeet, but I’m already sick of the James Harden saga and I’m already dreading the first 5-24 Russell Westbrook game and the ESPN columns and First Take debates that will ensue. Wake me up when the post-season starts.
15. Miami Heat (Last Year: #5)
Similar to OKC, the defending champs should be pretty boring this year (minus the couple requisite LeBron dunk assassinations), which is probably just how the Heat fans like them — dull and predictable and cruelly efficient as they pile up wins and start gearing up for the playoffs in February. They get the edge over OKC with the addition of Ray Allen, whose presence in a Heat jersey will be difficult-verging-on-impossible to get used to, but who should have a couple games where he hits something like seven open threes in a quarter. Should be a time.
14. Los Angeles Clippers (Last Year: #3)
Since extending DeAndre Jordan and trading for Chris Paul, the Clippers have gone about trying to make an exciting team as unexciting as possible. I mean, look at the guys they brought in: Jamal Crawford, Lamar Odom, Grant Hill, Willie Green. And as if all that wasn’t enough, they extended Mr. Anti-League Pass, Chauncey Billups. If I wasn’t convinced that Blake Griffin was gonna have a breakout, near-MVP type season this year that I’m intent on catching as much of as I possibly can, I’d be very tempted to rank this team in the lower half of the list, just to prove a point. You can’t take your team’s watchability for granted, new General Manager Gary Sachs.
13. Golden State Warriors (Last Year: #18)
As with the team’s chances at winning, health is a key here. Though I’m not all that sure if, once the novelty of watching the Warriors play with an actual competent center wears off, having Andrew Bogut on the team doesn’t actually hurt their League Pass appeal. Still, the intrigue is there, and having Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes launch 20 threes a game between them will undoubtedly help restore the old Warrior excitement. Just as long as injuries don’t strike again and we end up watching way too much Brandon Rush, Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack.
12. New Orleans Hornets (Last Year: #9)
Well, last year in New Orleans wasn’t quite as fun as I anticipated, hence my pre-emptive bumping down of them a little year. I’m pessimistic about Eric Gordon’s health, about Austin Rivers’ rookie season, and about Ryan Anderson’s ability to thrive away from Dwight Howard (at least at the same level). The only thing I’m totally in on is Anthony Davis being a must-watch even in his raw, under-developed first year. There’s just no way that if this guy’s on the court, that he won’t be totally transfixing. Oh, and also Greivis Vasquez. Love that guy.
11. Milwaukee Bucks (Last Year: #20)
A full season of the Monta/Jennings back-court. That’s about it here — besides more Ersan Ilyasova box score weirdness and Drew Gooden regular weirdness — but what more do you need, really?
10. Boston Celtics (Last Year: #17)
The Celtics embark on what should be their third or fourth official Last Stand, with the most entertaining supporting cast they’ve had in ages. It’s hard to believe how deep this team is — Jason Terry! Jeff Green! Jared Sullinger! DARKO! — considering they had to play Keyon Dooling and Marquis Daniels serious minutes in the playoffs last year. Of course, that means that all but three of the Celtics’ rotation guys are going to get injured and they’re somehow gonna end up starting important games with Leandro Barbosa and Fab Melo, but for the time being anyway, they look like one of the most interesting contenders in the league.
9. Charlotte Bobcats (Last Year: #24)
Yeah, it’s probably not rational, but I’m fascinated by this damn Bobcats team. I fell in love with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist after one Summer League game, I can’t get enough Byron Mullens shooting threes, and Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo … well, at least one of those guys is gonna turn out to be half-decent this year, right? Brendan Haywood and Ramon Sessions probably won’t help this team’s LP potential tremendously, and winning 25 games would probably be a huge reach, but I bet this team ends up being way more fun than anyone anticipates. Hey, once you have the worst season in NBA history, pressure’s off, right?
8. Sacramento Kings (Last Year: #4)
Like the reverse Spurs, the Kings have been a perennial top ten League Pass team as they finish well into the lottery seemingly every year, always trading on the potential that this is the year that they’ve amassed so many lottery picks that they have to start actually winning games. Maybe it’ll be 2012-13, maybe it won’t, but the presence of DeMarcus Cousins alone makes them essential viewing. And with yet another top five pick in tow (Thomas Robinson, hard to get a read on) and Jimmer and Tyreke still waiting in the wings, the Kings aren’t falling into the League Pass lottery anytime soon.
7. Minnesota Timberwolves (Last Year: #1)
With their number of intriguing off-season signings — a resurrected Brandon Roy, a rescued Andrei Kirilenko, whatever the hell Greg Stiemsma ends up being in this league — the Wolves looked likely to repeat as LP champs in 2012-13. But with Kevin Love missing the beginning of the season and Ricky Rubio still out, and with the Wolves being so miserable at the end of last season, I’m just not sure they’ll be all that watchable without their two franchise cornerstones. If Derrick Williams wants to step up to expectations in the absence of those two, I’d be happy to bump ‘em back towards the top, but I sense disappointment from a suddenly impatient T’Wolves franchise this year.
6. Houston Rockets (Last Year: #21)
There’s a chance they’ll be too bad to be fun, but failing that, wow is this Rockets team interesting. Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik were the big signings, and obviously whether or not Linsanity gets any kind of sequel will be the biggest story with the team, but I’m nearly as intrigued by the team’s trio of first-round rookies — four if you count Donatas Motiejunas, who looked awesome in the Summer League — and guys like Patrick Patterson and Marcus Morris, who should finally get some playing time with a little of this roster’s clutter removed. Darryl Morey may not have succeeded in making this team a contender yet, but in gutting the roster and handing the keys to a bunch of rookies and unprovens, he definitely made them a must-DVR, which is arguably just as important.
5. New York Knicks (Last Year: #2)
Knicks fans probably wish this team would rank a little bit lower, since a boring team would likely mean a stable one, which the Knicks have been anything but the last five years. Still, the instability made for the best television of last year in the NBA, and should be good for another half-dozen quality mini-dramas at MSG this year. Will Carmelo end up playing the four? Will Amar’e come off the bench? Who’s playing point guard? Who’s keeping tabs on Rasheed Wallace to make sure he doesn’t wander into the crowd during the games for no reason? Will Kurt Thomas and Marcus Camby forget which one of them is which? There’s no better recurring drama on primetime than the New York Knicks.
4. Philadelphia 76ers (Last Year: #14)
If you don’t think Andrew Bynum in Philly is at absolute least the third most compelling storyline of the NBA season, I don’t know what to tell you. Except this, maybe — have you seen his hair yet? And that was like a week after being traded. The potential for weirdness with this guy as a franchise player in the City of Brotherly Love is practically limitless. Not to mention that he might actually make the team better, too. Health is a concern, but assuming he’s on the floor for at least half the season, Bynum will do a half-dozen crazy things at a minimum that give bloggers seizures over the course of the year. He’s already started to rub off on the rest of the team, as evidenced by Spencer Hawes’ other-worldly mullet.
3. Brooklyn Nets (Last Year: #19)
I’m not sold on the team actually being good, but there’s no denying that they’ll be a must-watch in almost every game this year. Hell, even the pregame routines and halftime shows at Barclays this year are gonna be essential viewing for at least the first month of games. Everything about this team in its new location is exciting, with the possible exception of the players they took with them, and even those guys will have their moments. Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries are easily the league’s most inherently hilarious frontcourt, Deron Williams is good for at least four or five OH SHIT games a season, and no team with Reggie Evans on the roster has ever been completely unlikeable. The Brooklyn shine will be there regardless, and the inevitable Celebrity Row should be entertaining — Maino and Maggie Gyllenhaal on the same Jumbotron!
2. Denver Nuggets (Last Year: #12)
Can a roster that looks like it was designed for maximum League Pass watchability contend for a title? Masai Ujiri will find out this year, and we will certainly enjoy watching the experiment. Not one player on this team’s roster is boring (with the possible exception of Kosta Koufos, who passes if for no other reason than because his name is Kosta Koufos), and with the addition of do-everything-but-score All-Star Andre Iguodala (reunited with Andre Miller!), they might actually have a shot at being elite. Those looking for a respite from the overbearing star power of the Lakers and Thunder (and to a much lesser extent, the Spurs) will certainly love following the No Sticky Hands Nuggets in their second full year post-Melo, and they will certainly play a role in some of the year’s most entertaining, high octane regular season games.
1. Los Angeles Lakers (Last Year: #8)
Of course, going no-stars is great and all, but it still can’t compete with getting four stars on the same team for the first time. No matter how you feel about the Nash-Howard-Kobe-Gasol Lakers, they’re easily the biggest must-watch team since the post-Decision Heat, and even though half their games will undoubtedly end up on national TV, the other half will still be the most essential games on the schedule, no matter who they’re playing. Can Nash and Kobe co-exist? How much does either have left? What does a Nash/Dwight pick-and-roll look like? How many alley-oops can Pau volleyball to Dwight a game? Holy shit, is that really Metta World Peace looking so weirdly slim? All essential questions, all which desperately need answering in this 2012-13 season. The Timberwolves just can’t compete with that, and neither can anybody else.