Now that the Super Bowl has come and gone, Boardroom gets you back up to speed on the NBA as All-Star Weekend and the race to the postseason catch fire.
On Feb. 12, Super Bowl LVII between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles averaged 113,055,000 television viewers, making it the No. 2-most watched telecast in US television history. Now, with the world’s most profitable sports league’s season officially done and dusted, it’s time to lean all the way into all things hoops — and while the 2022-23 NBA season has been in play since October, but things are getting hotter before our eyes.
The trade deadline just passed, All-Star Weekend is upon us, and the final playoff push ensues for more than half the league as teams in postseason places pursue improving their squads with assorted odds and ends on the buyout market.
In an NBA marked by the supremacy of pace-and-space play, the game continues to change in several key ways both on and off the court. Super-teams will always be a thing given how much talent pulses through the league, but the door is somewhat closing on the idea of the traditional Big Three; most teams succeeding in 2022-23 are those who have spent wisely and built out their rosters nine or even 10 guys deep to account for as many detours and pitfalls as possible over the course of an 82-game season.
The healthiest team at the end of the season has a great chance to be the last one standing — but it takes a bit of luck, too. With that in mind, if you haven’t watched much of the Association because the NFL had arrested your full attention, a ton has changed since last season. Let’s get right into our Football Fan’s Guide to the NBA Season, from title contenders and rookie phenoms to the trade deadline’s major shifts in the league’s overall balance of power.
Boston is the Team to Beat
The Boston Celtics are showing that the 2021-22 season was no fluke, and that their offseason only bolstered their chances at bringing an 18th Larry O’Brien Trophy back to Boston. The C’s committed to building around a rangy core of homegrown players in Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart, and they have all managed to ascend at the right time.
Before the season, former head coach Ime Udoka was suspended for the full campaign due to a workplace misconduct scandal, with assistant Joe Mazzulla taking over. On Feb. 16, he was made the team’s permanent head coach and saw his contract extended, precluding an Udoka return at a later date.
He’s done a fine job. The Celtics are 42-17 — the best record in the Eastern Conference and the best prior to the All-Star break in the last 50 years by a team with a rookie head coach. With a solid coach in Mazzulla, the C’s pose a threat defensively that few other teams can replicate. Their 6.2 net rating is the highest among all teams in the NBA with their offensive (116.9) ranking third and defense (110.6) ranking fourth. That’s not mentioning Jayson Tatum’s ascendance as a potential MVP at 24 years old, averaging nearly 31 points per game.
Of course, it all comes at a hefty price. They have the eighth-highest total cap spending the NBA ($175.5 million) despite spending only $26 million in the offseason. Continuity matters in building a sustainable winning culture and the Celtics are evidence of that.
The Wild, Wild West
In an interview with ESPN in December, Grizzlies superstar Ja Morant said the only team he felt he needed to watch out for was the Celtics. As Malika Andrews asked, “No one in the West?” Morant replied simply, “Nah, I’m fine in the West.”
The West was already cluttered — after all, only three games separate the No. 5 seed and No. 12 seed. We’ll get to the trade deadline in a second, but in the meantime, let’s take a look at the major teams at the top, Cinderella picks, and who’s on the outside looking in.
- The Denver Nuggets (41-18) are exactly where they’re supposed to be with Nikola Jokić having yet another MVP campaign, and Jamal Murray running point after missing the 2021-22 season (ACL).
- The Memphis Grizzlies (35-22) are five games back, but they have every reason to be as confident as Ja was when he said what he said.
- Sacramento built a stigma for being the Kings of mediocrity, but now they’re the talk of the Association. They’re the No. 3 seed thanks to Domantas Sabonis and De’Aaron Fox. Head coach Mike Brown is a Coach of the Year candidate. GM Monte McNair has made a ton of moves to vault himself into the Executive of the Year conversation, too. They’re on pace to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2006. If and when that happens, their purple beam might reach Mars.
- The 4-8 seeds include the Suns, Clippers, Timberwolves, Mavericks, and Pelicans — all very talented teams who haven’t quite gotten over the hump. Watch this space in the area below.
- How about this? The defending champion Golden State Warriors are the No. 9 seed, while the rebuilding Thunder own the final play-in spot despite being the second-youngest team in the NBA with an average age of just 22.9.
- Finally, you have teams like the Jazz, Blazers, and Lakers in desperate need of a healthy winning streak to get them back into the conversation. The Jazz weren’t supposed to even be the conversation. Nor were the Trail Blazers. As for the Lakers? They’re supposed to be a top team with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but that hasn’t been the case for several reasons.
- Looking ahead to the NBA Draft, all eyes are on French phenom Victor Wembanyama — look out for the Spurs and Rockets in the race for his services this summer.
From Feb. 6-9, $495,405,016 in 2022-23 player salaries were moved across a total of 15 trades. Here are a couple of the biggest deals:
- The league saw a complete overhaul with Kevin Durant heading to Phoenix and Kyrie Irving heading to Dallas. Ja’s comment didn’t age so well after this one. Now, Phoenix has arguably the toughest team in the entire NBA with KD, Devin Booker, Chris Paul, and DeAndre Ayton in tow.
- The Mavericks have one of the most lethal backcourts in all of basketball with Irving and Doncic, but we’ll see if the two can co-exist as ball-dominant guards.
- In moving Durant and Irving, the Nets got received Mikal Bridges, Spencer Dinwiddie, Cam Johnson, Dorian Finney-Smith, and four unprotected first-round picks.
- In a last-ditch effort to save the season, the Lakers acquired D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, and Jarred Vanderbilt in a three-team trade in addition to landing center Mo Bamba in a separate deal.
The Buyout Market
Players either currently available to sign or expected to be available include:
- Cavs F Kevin Love
- Knicks G Derrick Rose
- G John Wall
- G Reggie Jackson
The last four MVP trophies have been awarded to two internationally-born players (Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokić). As of today, there are eight international All-Stars this season and a record-tying four international All-Star Game starters, as well as a number of international players participating in Rising Stars game and All-Star Saturday Night. The level of global talent reflects the growing impact that international All-Stars like Giannis, Jokić, Joel Embiid, Luka Dončić, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander have on the game.
The first-year guys you need to know:
- Magic (2023 No. 1 overall pick) Paolo Banchero: 19.9 PPG, 6.6 RPG
- Pacers (No. 6) Bennedict Mathurin: 17 PPG, 4.1 RPG
- Pistons (No. 5) Jaden Ivey: 15 PPG, 4.6 APG
With the best record in the league, the Celtics are naturally your betting favorites to win the championship at FanDuel Sportsbook as of this writing, but the Milwaukee Bucks aren’t far behind in the standings nor betting odds — and the Suns took a huge leap after their acquisition of KD.
You wouldn’t guess the type of parity the Association has based on the odds, but then again, that’s the point.
2022-23 NBA championship futures odds
Odds via FanDuel Sportsbook as of Feb. 16, 2023.
- Boston Celtics: +270
- Milwaukee Bucks: +410
- Phoenix Suns: +500
- Denver Nuggets: +750
- Los Angeles Clippers: +1200
- Philadelphia 76ers: +1400
- Golden State Warriors: +1600
- Dallas Mavericks: +1700
- Memphis Grizzlies: +1900
- Cleveland Cavaliers: +3000
- Los Angeles Lakers: +5500
- Miami Heat: +5500
- New Orleans Pelicans: +6000
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