Following a tumultuous offseason, the entertaining group of studio analysts from TNT’s Inside the NBA gathered in New York City on Monday for their annual media lunch. They discussed the best teams, players, and all of the excitement of the coming NBA season.
Shaquille O’ Neal, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, and Ernie Johnson share a combined 49 seasons of playing experience. So they know a thing or two about basketball. They unanimously agreed that LeBron James and the story of his hometown return that dominated summer headlines would remain prominent throughout the year. Where they couldn’t agree, though was on which team would actually bring home a championship trophy.
The Chicago Bulls and the Cleveland Cavaliers emerged as the top contenders in the Eastern Conference. But while the Bulls face the difficult task of staying healthy, the Cavs have possibly an even more trying task: developing team chemistry.
Smith — a two-time champion with the Houston Rockets and the all-time assist leader at North Carolina — said that Derrick Rose’s health will make or break the Bulls. In Cleveland, meanwhile, this season will be a big test for Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.
“When you’re a young player ascending in the league, you don’t really know what you’re great at yet,” Smith said. “Then someone like LeBron comes into the picture, and your role and responsibilities change. You have to decide how you handle that.”
The Western conference, however, remained a puzzle for the analysts.
Barkley said that the San Antonio Spurs’ dominance in the 2014 Finals was one of the most impressive performances he had ever seen. But when it comes to this season, he has no idea who will finish as the top playoff seed.
“It’s going to be fun,” Barkley said. “This is the most excited I’ve been about the NBA in a long time. I’ve been around the league for 30 years, and there are so many teams that could win it all.”
Barkley added that the team that made the most significant off-season improvement was definitely the Dallas Mavericks. And even teams that might not be as successful still have incredible talent.
After spending time with a young United States men’s team this summer, Barkley also offered insight into the emerging talent in the league.
“If you haven’t seen Anthony Davis play yet, you have to,” Barkley said. “LeBron and Kevin Durant are the best players in the NBA by far, but Anthony Davis is going to be the next man up.”
However things look when the final buzzer sounds and a new champion is crowned, there is an opportunity for fans and young players to learn a very important lesson from this season, Smith said.
“It’s all about teamwork,” he said. “Sometimes individual play can overshadow everything in the league because players are so good, but this year there are lots of new nucleuses. Teamwork will be the biggest difference this year.”
Photo courtesy Turner Sports