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The NBA season starts next Tuesday and no one cares

Some suggestions for Adam Silver. NBA.com

This is the best time of the year in sports. That’s not a debatable point or opinion, it’s a fact. NFL season is under way. MLB playoffs are here. NCAA football teams are making their case. The NBA season opens this year on Oct. 17. But the NBA is almost like the stepchild of the sports world right now. Why is that?

One of the main reasons is football. With the NFL and NCAA football seasons starting about a month and a half before the NBA, they have a head start. Their respective seasons are in full swing when the NBA starts. NFL teams are now making the picture clearer and NCAA teams are jockeying for poll positioning. Football is also the most popular sport in this country. Basketball is so far back in the rearview mirror, it looks like a dot rather than another vehicle.

Another reason there’s little fanfare for the start of the NBA season is the MLB playoffs are getting intense. The American and National League Championship Series will both be under way by the time the NBA opens up. Last year when the Astros were making their run, Houston barely paid attention to the Rockets. This year looks as if it’ll be a repeat of last year as the Astros are already waiting on the Red Sox/Yankees winner in the ALCS. They’re getting ready to defend their World Series title. Not since the ’98-’00 Yankees has a team won back to back titles in MLB, and they won three in a row. I highly doubt anyone pays much attention to anything outside of the Astros if they make it back to the World Series.

The NBA made changes to its season structure to start about one to two weeks earlier than normal last season. They did so in part to lengthen the season to cut down on the amount of back to back games teams were playing. It’s really helped the players, but has been sort of annoying to fans. Your team may play on Tuesday and not have another game until Friday, or even Saturday in some cases. 

One other thing that’s hurting the NBA right now is competitive balance. Most fans, and some “experts,” tend to think along the lines of “until the Warriors break up, they’re the overwhelming favorite to win it all.” Not many people think anyone outside the Warriors has a shot. Sure, there will be some who try the “hot take” or make the ‘sexy/chic pick” and say the Celtics or Rockets or Sixers will win it all, but do they truly believe that? I highly doubt it.

So what can the NBA do to make their season opening matter more? I have a few ideas: 

1-Make the opening day a big deal by having compelling matchups similar to Christmas day games. Imagine opening day back when Shaq and Kobe were beefing? What about a Pistons/Bulls matchup opening day in late ‘80s/early ‘90s?

2-The games should all take place on ABC, the league’s national broadcast partner and should be streamed for free online somewhere. Making these games readily viewable to the masses creates more interest.

3-A better marketing strategy will help. I propose more commercials during NCAA football, MLB and NFL games. This way, they’re taking advantage of sports that more eyes are on at that time of year. 

The NBA has done a ton of things right over the years. It is the world’s second most popular sport. But in this country, it’s losing ground to MLB and continually falling further behind football. The NFL and MLB have done their opening days so well for so long, that they have equity. The NBA still hasn’t gotten this right. Hopefully, they will take some suggestions I’ve given and build upon them.

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The Rockets will select No. 3 overall in the upcoming NBA Draft. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

It was not a good NBA Draft Lottery for the Rockets. Any suggestion otherwise is silly spin. It’s not stunning or catastrophic, but settling for the third pick in next month’s Draft is a definite disappointment. It could have been worse since picking fourth or fifth were possible outcomes, actually more mathematically likely than landing a top three pick. It could have been a heckuva lot better. Last season the Rockets were the worst team in the NBA but drew the second pick. Again this season the Rockets were the worst team in the NBA, this time they fall a spot lower as Orlando and Oklahoma City won the first two selections.

A year ago the Rockets were very happy to get Jalen Green at number two. After an awful first half of his rookie season Green came on like gangbusters. Had the Rockets finished second in Tuesday’s drawing, they were guaranteed to have access to either Auburn forward Jabari Smith or Gonzaga center Chet Holmgren as the second anchor piece of their rebuild. Instead at number three, six foot ten inch Duke freshman Paolo Banchero is the most likely Rocket selection. Nobody knows with any degree of certainty whose career will go how, and hey, maybe the Thunder takes Banchero leaving Smith on the board for the Rockets. But while Banchero is a fine prospect he is an athletic gear below the also six-ten Smith and lacks the unique upside of the seven foot beanpole Holmgren. With the Blue Devils, Banchero was a mediocre three point shooter and a mediocre free throw shooter. Maybe he was poorly coached! Obviously any 19-year-old’s skills can develop, but Banchero’s ceiling at this point is clearly lower than those of Smith and Holmgren.

Provided Holmgren and Green go one-two or two-one, if Banchero is not the pick at three it will be eyebrow raising but mean the Rockets opted to take a flyer on more athleticism. Think Purdue point guard Jaden Ivey, wing Shaedon Sharpe who did not play as a freshman at Kentucky, or least likely six foot eight Iowa forward Keegan Murray.

The Rockets have two picks in Round 1

In addition to the third pick, the Rockets have the 17th selection as the first useable asset (sorry Victor Oladipo) gained from the James Harden to Brooklyn trade. At 17 General Manager Rafael Stone will be chucking a dart at the board hoping to hit at least as well as he did at 16 last summer with Alperen Sengun. Sengun was fun to watch offensively and should be a solid rotation player, but he’ll never be a plus starter without at least a couple of terrific defenders on the floor with him. Sengun is simply too slow, and lacks the quick twitch muscles to ever be more than a mediocre team defender. Good small ball and spacing teams can play Sengun off the court. The Rockets’ defense was garbage this season with very little improvement shown as the season droned on. Either Smith or Holmgren would have been an immediate upgrade on that end over the shall we say, lethargic, Christian Wood.

Rockets outlook

The Rockets are in a challenging spot. They’re staring at a third straight season of NBA irrelevance, and their path to getting very good again is perilous. Jalen Green has the “wow” factor, but exactly nobody (nobody reasonable anyway) would prefer to have him going forward rather than Luka Doncic or Ja Morant. Doncic’s Mavericks and Morant’s Grizzlies are both in the Rockets’ division. So is Zion Williamson and New Orleans, though who knows if Zion will ever sustain good health and conditioning to fulfill his high-end potential. For the second straight season Oklahoma City was second worst in the West. The Thunder is armed with a proven quality GM in Sam Presti and holds much better draft capital than the Rockets in coming years, including getting the Rockets' first round picks in 2024 and 2026 unless they are top four picks.

When a team goes 17-55 and 20-62 in consecutive seasons it needs most things, including some good luck. That describes the Rockets in spades. They are a good bet to be lousy again in 2022-23. Owner Tilman Fertitta has acknowledged as much. A third consecutive losing season is extreeeemely likely. That will come after the Rockets had just three losing seasons total over the prior 36 seasons. If the Rockets’ 2022 lottery ticket doesn't pay off significantly, they’re staring at being NBA dreck for more than half a decade.

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