I guess when it comes down to it, I’m just a sucker for a comeback story. Call it homerism, or a Great Lakes bias, or Stockholm syndrome — it doesn’t much matter to me — because I am here for the redevelopment plans that are starting to come together in the Central division. The Bucks provided the blueprint: Invest heavily in your own (Giannis, Middleton) and then bring in outside help (hello, Jrue!) to get you over the top. After breaking through in a big way last year with their own in-house Big Two of Darius Garland and Evan Mobley, the Cleveland Cavaliers seized on New York’s hesitation and snatched an in-his-prime All-Star guard to help them get where they want to go. The cost of doing business was steep in both cases — the Cavs only have one future first-round pick from now until 2030 — but that’s what it takes to trade for a player as good as Donovan Mitchell. Spida arrives in Believeland carrying 25 points per game, and while there will be an adjustment period as the usage rates find their new levels, his presence makes it all the more challenging not to take Cleveland seriously in a fiercely competitive Eastern Conference. There’s still a hole on the wing and the depth is a bit shaky, but the youth of the core four puts the Cavs in a position of strength for years to come as they try to replicate the Milwaukee Miracle on the shores of Lake Erie.

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The Golden State Warriors, somehow, enter the 2022-23 season as unsteady defending champions after winning what nearly everyone described as their sweetest championship a season ago. A championship that came after two years in the wilderness of abject failure and mediocrity due to injuries to Thompson and then Curry and then Thompson again. Last season’s championship run also unfolded in the absence of all the “you broke basketball” talk that surrounded Kevin Durant’s arrival in the Bay and it saw Steph Curry win his long overdue finals MVP after a historic series in which there was no doubt he was the best player, not only on his own team, but on either team in the Finals. And yet, here we are.

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The Indiana Pacers enter the 2022-23 season as everyone’s favorite punching bag. The organization, in recent vintage, has been unwilling to execute an all-out tank like the 76ers in the Hinkie era or the current Sam Presti-led iteration of the Oklahoma City Thunder. This year is shaping up to be a notable exception to that history. The Pacers will begin the season without any reliable small forwards on the roster and a dearth of quality wing defenders. Buddy Hield will likely start at that spot in what will be a three-guard starting lineup of Tyrese Haliburton, Bennedict Mathurin, Buddy Hield, Jalen Smith, and Myles Turner. The chatter in league circles (as reported by just about every reputable NBA media member) is that Turner will be traded sooner rather than later. Of course, it should be noted, that we’ve heard that story before and, at least for now, Turner remains on the roster

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Ah yes, darkness my old friend. Well, not the usual darkness and despair, let’s be honest here, the Clippers are a very good team. And not just the roster, the entire franchise is pretty darn solid from top-to-bottom and, like the past four seasons, remains a threat to grab the chip. The obvious hurdle the past several years, of course, is the perpetual injuries and time missed by their two biggest stars in Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. While Kawhi takes the cake for the majority of time missed, no one is really unfamiliar with this race to the bottom with exploding body parts. But that’s the intrigue with this team, when those two aren’t on the court, there’s still a solid group that can grind out wins and hold their own, a narrative that’s remained entrenched as they prove it every season. But when, and of course we have to add the caveat of “if” those two ever make it on the court together in a sustainable amount of time (ahem, playoffs), well, the sky is pretty much the limit.

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The Brooklyn Nets could not have ended lastseason in a more sour way. By the time the final whistle blew, they look exhausted and deflated. The Nets leaving the 2022 playoffs in that fashion was a tremendous embarrassment for the team, the front office, the Nets fan base, and fans of the NBA. No matter whom you cheer for and support, you want to see the best players in the biggest games. The Nets being swept in the first round just felt wrong. They were one year removed from Kevin Durant’s shoe size being the only thing that could stop them. To be dismissed and thrown away so easily, had to be a difficult pill to swallow.

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Do you believe in Magic? A quote engraved with time, from good ole’ Mickey D’s (the hamburger place!) to Magic Johnson, to the actual Magic. Perhaps even real magic? One can only hope. And what does this journey have to do with the aforementioned Magic? Nothing really, I just like leaving easy clues to how old I’m getting. It’s either providing catharsis or more depression, but at this point, who can tell? But speaking of which, when you think of the Magic, there’s literally just one or two “eras” that the team found success. The first was the one we all know of, the Shaq-attack in prime form, Penny, Nick Anderson, ah yes, the mid-90’s… No Diggity, No Doubt. The second age of Magic “prosperity” would probably be then the end of the 00’s, an underrated team in history that saw some dominant performances from Vince Carter and Hedo Turkoglu. But beyond that, darkness. A world without Magic, if you will. This might not be the case much longer though, the real question is, does the return of Magic begin this year? Let’s find out!

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The Los Angeles Lakers are held to a higher standard. For this reason, last year was a failure of epic portions. A losing season and missing the playoffs is not the end of the world for most professional organizations. It sucks, but not the end of the world. By Lakers’ standards, making the playoffs is supposed to be a guarantee.

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The Suns’ off-season produced enough fireworks to sustain Kenny Powers on the Fourth of July.  Unfortunately, if you’re a Suns fan, the drama was less of the blockbuster trade or free agent acquisition variety, and more front-page-of-the-tabloid variety.  For starters, majority owner Robert Sarver is putting the team up for sale after being suspended for the entire season.   The news unleashed a circus of speculation surrounding the identity of the next owner, with Bob Iger, Shaq, and Floyd Mayweather Jr. being mentioned as candidates with varying levels of seriousness.  The Suns are also trying to deal a frustrated Jae Crowder, who capped off his summer of discontent by sitting out training camp and pre-season while the franchise works out a trade.  Speaking of pre-season, the Suns got off to an inauspicious start when the Adelaide 36ers came from Down Under and handed Phoenix a loss on their home court.  We all know not to read into pre-season too much, but between distractions at the top, the cloud hanging over Crowder’s exit, and simmering tensions between coach Monty Williams and Deandre Ayton, one gets the feeling that the turmoil from their disastrous second round ouster may extend into this season.

Whatever happens, there is still fantasy goodness to be mined from this fast-paced squad.  Here are my assessments as we near the start of the action:

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The Portland Trail Blazers missed the playoffs last season for the first time since Damian Lillard’s rookie year, and finished with their worst record (27-55) since the fall of the Jail Blazers era.  After GM Neil Olshey was fired midseason for being a total a-hole fostering a toxic work environment, his successor, Joe Cronin, called in the tanks and began reshaping the roster to meet the needs of first year head coach Chauncey Billlups. The Blazers were stripped down to a G League team for the final two months, losing 21 of their last 23 games – who out there had Drew Eubanks power them to a league title?

Some fans said “Tanks For Nothing!” for the lost season that saw a beloved borderline all-star player traded for role players and financial flexibility; the lottery balls left them at No. 7; and Lillard’s Primetime clock ticked through another year. But now Dame is back, the hype machine is rolling – “Not sure how good they’ll be, but they’ll be fun to watch!” – and Portland looks primed to return to its normal status as playoff team but not a contender. 

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If you were ever wondering what the process was for how team previews get assigned, it’s essentially a modern day duel to the death, but digital with way less death and way more clicking. But for the most part, we do get some say on which teams we cover, which for me is a strange thing to admit as I’ve now covered the Bulls, Rockets and now the Wizards. I’ve begun to question my very core ethos… am I masochist? Do I love to suffer from watching lost causes and rebuilding projects? Granted, the Bulls are kinda breaking out of their shell, Ninja Turtles metaphor for all the senior citizens out there, but there’s no denying that being a fan of the Rockets and Wizards franchises has its challenges. And while the Rockets have committed to a full rebuild and have essentially forfeited the next few seasons in order to quickly regenerate their team, the Wizards have chosen the meandering method (Or how I make love). With the re-signing of Bradley Beal, the Wizards look to be competitive for some weeks before returning to their middle-of-the-ground wasteland. The real question is, how many weeks and how much meh-basketball will be generated in that span? Enticing, I know!

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