Every year I buy the NBA League Pass Broadband choice package, which allows streaming online access to watch every game for the set of teams you select (subject to national blackout restrictions for games on TNT and ESPN), and every year I run into the same problem. With exclusive access to the Milwaukee Bucks on local cable, I am free to choose my five teams for the choice package from elsewhere in the league. The Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, Oklahoma City Thunder, New York Knicks, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, etc. are all in play. Once you pick a team, you are stuck with that team for the rest of the season. There is no way to switch after you choose, so the risks and benefits of access to each team must be considered before finalizing the quintet of teams.
Why not get the full 30-team package and be done with it? Two reasons: (1) it costs more, and (2) it wouldn't be worth the extra money to me...I only have so much time to watch NBA games anyways, and this season will have games nearly every night. This might be what comedian Louis C.K. would refer to as one of America's "white people problems" [link NSFW], but it is a problem none the less. Help me solve it.
As previously mentioned, the Bucks are already part of my local cable TV package, so no need to consider them for this process. Here are the teams I am already pretty sure about:
- Miami Heat - This one is pretty simple. Aside from having the best player in the league (LeBron James), they are easily one of the more compelling storylines in the NBA. Every team they play will give them a great effort, and road games may feature feisty fans who bought tickets to boo the villains of the NBA, so the excitement and intrigue will come every night. Might lose a decent bunch of games to national blackouts, but seeing how different teams approach defending Wade and James is worth the cost.
- Chicago Bulls - Derrick Rose. That is all. Okay, I suppose I can explain this one a bit further. If the best record in the Eastern Conference doesn't get you interested, and the reigning league MVP can't convince you, maybe the excellent defensive schemes crafted by Tom Thibodeau can do the trick. One of the most interesting things from last season for me was looking at how Thibs designed defensive game plans to shut down the best scorers on opposing teams. There is never a dull moment when admiring the craft of defensive coaching, and Thibodeau is easily the best in the league when it comes to scheming against top players and forcing role players to beat his teams. Sure they are one Derrick Rose injury away from being a pretty terrible team, but I also happen to write for SB Nation Chicago, so I should be on top of all things Bulls anyways. Even so, consider this pick locked in for "basketball reasons."
- Oklahoma City Thunder - Young, talented and dangerous sounds like a description of my 16-month old daughter, but it works just as well to sum up Kevin Durant's Thunder squad. It's hard not to like the small market darlings of the NBA, and this might finally be the year they make their big move in the West (which is more wide open than ever). When I'm not admiring James Harden's glorious beard, I can always keep a close eye on how Russell Westbrook is able to mesh with Durant and company. Remember when Westbrook hit the bench last season in the playoffs for failing to effectively control his aggressive style in big moments? I do.
- Los Angeles Clippers - Without Chris Paul I probably would have just waited for national television games and other overlaps with the teams on my choice package, but now I feel compelled to pull the trigger on Blake Griffin and the Clips for the first time ever. I'm not sure if they can compete with the big dogs in the conference, but it will certainly be fun to watch along and find out on my own. DeAndre Jordan as part of your core is not really a good thing, but when your two best players are Paul and Griffin it promises enough excitement to be termed must-watch NBA basketball. I'm in on the Clips.
The troublesome fifth team decision....
- New York Knicks - Everyone is going to be talking about the Knicks, but it finally feels like it will be for good reason. Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chanlder constitute a more than competitive core of top players, but the rest of the roster is still pretty craptastic. People are talking about Iman Shumpert like he's is going to be a big contributor in New York, and that's not a great sign when it comes to depth. Plenty of games will be on national television, so maybe I don't need them here...
- Los Angeles Lakers - They are growing old and couldn't pull off a big trade to reload talent on the roster, so it's up to Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and the man with the suspiciously fragile knees: Andrew Bynum. The Lakers are making a big bet that Kobe has enough left in the tank, and that Bynum just plain has enough, to make through a compressed schedule in 2011-12. I am very uncomfortable with picking the Lakers because an injury or two could turn this whole show ugly in an instant. It's not like they won't be on TNT and ESPN every other night anyways, so it just doesn't seem worth the gamble.
- Boston Celtics - They are getting old fast, and feel ubiquitous on the national broadcasts anyways, so I'm not exactly high on this pick, but it's hard to deny the success they have had. Plus it's another opportunity to watch Ray Allen on a regular basis, which just hurts too much to put myself through often.
- Memphis Grizzlies - Another young team that performed well even without Rudy Gay in the playoffs, and has now locked up Marc Gasol long-term. Could be fun to catch more of the Grizzlies because they are decidedly not a game of the week type team that invades your TV all the time. Still, something tells me they aren't quite as good as their playoff performances have led them to believe. They won't sneak up on anybody this year.
- Philadelphia 76ers - I think they will be a force in the Eastern Conference this season, but maybe I just like Thaddeus Young and Jrue Holiday too much. It's entirely possible. A bit of a gamble to go with the 76ers as the fifth team, but if I don't add them I probably won't get to see them play much this season. If Evan Turner wasn't so terrible I would have already made my decision, but I just don't see him being the difference maker his draft slot suggests he should have been.
- Golden State Warriors - I really like watching the Golden State Warriors despite their lack of success. They occupy the same soft spot as the Bucks do, but offer the inverse in terms of strategy and entertainment. The offense is always exciting, but the defense gets them killed. It can be cathartic to see Steph Curry and Monta Ellis pour in buckets night after night after being bombarded with Brandon Jennings and the Bucks, so the Warriors might just be the other team I add. West coast games come on later and fit into my night owl tendencies as well, so why not get some late night NBA action? Stephen Curry is on track to become one of the best offensive players in the NBA as far as I am concerned, and he is an absolute pleasure to watch run an offense, so why deny myself the beauty of well-run (and high-pace) NBA offense?