Over the last couple months we’ve previewed the NHL and NFL seasons by comparing each and every team in their respective leagues to an album that we feel will best sum up their season. It was a lot of fun! So we’re doing it again with the NBA. Basketball tips off officially tonight, so go ahead and catch yourself up with all the listening required to best appreciate your team’s successes, failures, quirks, and frustrations. Enjoy! I hope you’re not a Nets fan!
Atlanta Hawks: Thee Oh Sees - Castlemania
Thee Oh Sees have been cranking out pure, fundamentally sound garage rock for nearly two decades now. This will never stop. They’ve got a formula that works, and while it never touches unprecedented greatness, it’s always going to be fun to listen to. The Atlanta Hawks are a very good team–exceedingly competent basketball players playing exceedingly competent basketball–but unfortunately that only goes so far. Expect another great season that we’ll forget about by August.
Philadelphia 76ers: MGMT - MGMT
Remember MGMT? Those two blue-blood kids who stirred up a ton of homegrown momentum with delightful psych-pop jams like “Time to Pretend,” “Kids,” and “Electric Feel” back in 2008? If you asked me back at the turn of the decade I would’ve totally penciled them in for a Killers-esque career. But here we are in 2015, where MGMT has consciously sabotaged any potential success. Their two albums since their debut, Congratulations and MGMT, are both prickly, head-trip dirges with far more in common with Syd Barrett than The Flaming Lips. Maybe they’re working towards some greater goal and 10 years from now we’ll look at these records like stepping stones to a greater opus? Who knows. The 76ers are in the midst of an endless rebuild and their 2016 campaign is looking just as hapless as the year before. The front office is promising some grand turnaround sooner or later, but I’m not convinced.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Amon Amarth - Twilight of the Thunder God
The secret thing about LeBron James is that he’ll be turning 31 over the course of this season. Is he still the best player in the world? Probably. Are his best years behind him? Probably. The homecoming is wonderful, but the Cavs are already running out of time, so I’m giving them my favorite apocalyptic viking-metal album, courtesy of Swedish warlords Amon Amarth. There’s no reason to panic yet, but this year I think Cleveland deserves a song called “Tattered Banners, Bloody Flags.”
Brooklyn Nets: Death Cab For Cutie - Plans
Somehow the Brooklyn Nets are more depressing than the Philadelphia 76ers. I’m not sure how that’s possible, considering the 76ers only have two actual basketball players, but the Nets have completely destroyed their future over the last couple years. They’re tremendously, horrifically bad, and they also owe two future first-round picks to the Boston Celtics. There is literally no way out. The future is dead and gone. In moments like this, you must reach for the Death Cab.
San Antonio Spurs: Radiohead - In Rainbows
The Spurs have had the same core for decades but still manage to be one of the most forward-thinking ensembles on the planet. This year they’re bringing in LaMarcus Aldridge, which solidifies their future while simultaneously making them a favorite in the present. Congratulations San Antonio, you’re totally the Radiohead of basketball.
Portland Trail Blazers: Beck - Sea Change
It wasn’t long ago that the Trail Blazers were on the top of their game. A rock-solid core of LaMarcus Aldridge, Wes Matthews, and Damian Lillard. But now, two of those three have moved on, and Portland is as far away from contender-ship as they’ve ever been. This is life! It’s no big deal! Players leave, teams get worse. There’s nothing you can do. So settle down with Sea Change, remember the good times, and know they’ll be back someday.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Sleater-Kinney -The Woods
The Woods is my favorite Sleater-Kinney album, but it was also recorded in the year preceding a pre-planned 10-year hiatus. They were done, and until this year, it didn’t seem likely that they were ever coming back. Kevin Durant could very well leave the Thunder this offseason. It’s the biggest storyline in basketball since “The Decision”. But before that happens he’ll have an opportunity to create some legit greatness on his way out. How could you stay mad if that happened?
Los Angeles Lakers: Pearl Jam - Lightning Bolt
Why do we still have to watch Lakers games on national TV. Seriously, why. They are bad. Kobe is old. This is not a new thing. The charming storyline of a formerly formidable franchise dealing with the dregs of mediocrity is all played out. It’s not shocking anymore, we’re used to this defenseless team. When I watch the Lakers on TNT I get the same feeling I do when I see Pearl Jam headlining yet another festival. It’s 2015! Find the stuff that people actually want to see!
Houston Rockets: The Field - Looping State of Mind
If you don’t know, The Field is a Swede named Axel Willner who’s responsible for some of the most sublime techno in the history of electronic music. Gorgeously syncopated, tempoed, toned, it’s euphoria by way of tidy drums and addictive synth. If the Rockets can get close to the precision of The Field in their 2016 campaign they’ll probably win the title. It’s hard to think of many other teams loaded with so much talent at every position, the only question is whether or not Ty Lawson can march in tune.
Phoenix Suns: Jimmy Eat World - Clarity
I seriously don’t know who’s on the Suns anymore after all the weird, failed roster amalgamations between the now-traded Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas, but I have a feeling it’s not going to be a happy season. You know what I do when I’m not having a happy season? Listen to some good old-fashioned Arizona emo like Jimmy Eat World.
Denver Nuggets: Sly & The Family Stone - There’s A Riot Goin’ On
Man what a mess. It was only a couple season ago that the Nuggets were the most popular team on the internet! They had a liquid-fast offense anchored by underrated guys like Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, and Kenneth Faried! Now they’re among the most directionless teams in the NBA. It’s going to be another long season in Denver, so wallow in the sombreness with There’s a Riot Goin’ On, easily the most disillusioned album in the history of pop music.
Los Angeles Clippers: Kanye West - Yeezus
People didn’t truly hate Kanye West until he did that still-kinda-embarrassing Taylor Swift thing. It was the tipping point that sent West packing to Hawaii for a year to stew and self-loathe, before reemerging with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
Since then Kanye has learned that he makes some of his best music when he embraces the hate - see Yeezus, which may very well be the best album of our young century. The Clippers are easily the most hated team in the NBA. I’m not entirely sure why that’s the case, (Does Doc Rivers shrug too much?) but maybe if they dig deep and find their Kanye, they’ll finally win a title.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Drake - Thank Me Later
It sure seemed like the Timberwolves rebuilding process would be more painful than this. Ricky Rubio isn’t the guy, and Kevin Love spurned the city to play with LeBron in Cleveland. However they got Andrew Wiggins in return, and all of a sudden basketball is alive and well in Minnesota! It’s amazing how quickly your fortunes can change when you mix in an ambitious young Canadian talent.
Memphis Grizzlies: The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls in America
It’s never pretty, but the Memphis Grizzlies manage to be in title contention year after year despite never starting any truly generational talent. Can you win a title with Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, and Mike Conley as your three best players? Maybe not, but you have to appreciate their heart. Grit, chemistry, fundamentals, and a genuine understanding of those around them–kinda like the best Hold Steady albums!
New York Knicks: Cam’ron - Purple Haze
I love Cam’ron. Purple Haze is one of my favorite albums of all time. But nobody ever made the argument that Killa was king of New York, I mean, that’s just silly in a world where Jay-Z was releasing The Black Album a few months earlier. But you know what? There’s a real power vacuum in the mecca right now. Carmelo Anthony is probably a… I don’t know, top-12 player? As long as he’s the be-all end-all centerpiece the Knicks will be bad. Cam’ron is great, but he’s not going to win you a title by himself.
Miami Heat: Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon
You’re not supposed to get better after your lead singer leaves. You’re talking about the central character of the band, the voice people identify your music with, suddenly disappearing. But sometimes it totally works out, and you make an album like Dark Side of the Moon.
Now, nobody is making the argument that the Heat are better off without LeBron. However this lineup of Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside, and Luol Deng is shockingly good.
Orlando Magic: Nirvana - Bleach
You’ve got to like the idea of this team. These kids–Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris, Elfrid Payton, Mario Hezonja–are all super talented and intriguing. Yeah it hasn’t translated into a playoff appearance yet, but if Nirvana taught us anything, it’s that a hungry group of youths can create greatness pretty quickly.
Chicago Bulls: David Bowie - Never Let Me Down
Bowie was more or less finished making great albums once we got to the late ‘80s, which is fine because, well, he’s David Bowie.
Frankly I think 2015-16 is the last gasp for this Bulls core–Derrick Rose is not the same guy, Pau Gasol is old, and Joakim Noah is breaking down–but I’m not about to feel sorry for them either. You had Michael Jordan. You already had your Aladdin Sane, Ziggy Stardust, and Low. Let some other team eat.
Charlotte Hornets: Grimes - Art Angels
What a weird team. Kemba Walker! Nic Batum! Jeremy Lin! A probably-out-for-the-season Michael Kidd-Gilchrist! Al Jefferson is still great, and they’ll obviously win games, but you could see this Hornets campaign going in all sorts of directions. They could be one of the worst teams in the league, but they could also totally get a six-seed in the East. So, I’m going to award Charlotte an album that hasn’t actually come out yet. Grimes is one of the most interesting artists in the world, but her fourth album has been constantly delayed which makes it kind of fascinating, just like the Hornets!
New Orleans Pelicans: The Shins - Port of Morrow
The Shins are a band in name only. It’s just James Mercer, bouncing around ideas, writing an album whenever he feels like it. That’s why we’ve only seen four records in over a decade. It’s sort of the same situation with the Pelicans who are, for all intents and purposes, one player. If James Mercer is enough, Anthony Davis might be enough.
Dallas Mavericks: Robert Pollard - Blazing Gentlemen
Does it ever make you sad that Robert Pollard is still putting out records? The dude is legitimately one of the greatest rock songwriters of all time, but here he is in 2015, putting out album after album for a slowly diminishing group of diehards. It gives me the same feeling that Dirk Nowitzki does, stuck on a team that’s completely removed from contention.
Toronto Raptors: The Weeknd - Beauty Behind The Madness
No real reason here. The Raptors are an okay basketball team who have kinda-sorta partnered with The Weeknd and Drake in sponsoring The Six’s heartwarming cultural renaissance. Toronto is cool, The Raptors are cool, let’s hope they don’t get swept again.
Boston Celtics: Real Estate - Atlas
There’s really not much impressive about Real Estate. They make lazy guitar music inspired by the quiet magic of suburban afternoons, not much more than you could muster with a couple pedals and a few days practice. And you know what? I sorta feel the same way about this year’s Celtics team. They have exactly zero great players, but between Isaiah Thomas, Amir Johnson, Marcus Smart, Jared Sullinger, they have enough above-averageness to nab a spot in the underpowered East.
Sacramento Kings: Beanie Sigel - The B. Coming
There’s been a lot of upheaval in Sacramento. DeMarcus Cousins was about to get traded, then he wasn’t, then Rajon Rondo showed up despite completely mailing in his time with the Mavericks, Rudy Gay is involved somewhere… yeah. The Kings are easily the most dysfunctional franchise in the NBA, but they also might be good this year. Sometimes strife begets greatness, just ask Beanie Sigel.
Milwaukee Bucks: Violent Femmes - Violent Femmes
Hey look! All of a sudden the Bucks are good and exciting again! Giannis is a superstar in the making, Greg Monroe is a perfect fit and Jason Kidd is a great coach! Enjoy Violent Femmes, easily the greatest album in the history of Milwaukee.
Utah Jazz: Vince Staples - Summertime ‘06
This core, man this core! Dante Exum, Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors, Alec Burks! That’s how you build a basketball team! The Jazz are young, but they are also ready, so they get Vince Staples Summertime ‘06 which is the ultimate young-but-also-ready rap album of the last couple years.
Washington Wizards: Black Flag - Damaged
Black Flag were just a bunch of random degenerates before Henry Rollins showed up. Washington Wizards are just a fringe contender until Kevin Durant shows up.
Indiana Pacers: Pulp - His ‘n’ Hers
I haven’t seen a team do a complete 180 like the Pacers in quite some time. They’ve sent Roy Hibbert out to pasture and brought in Monta Ellis as their prime signing. That’s kinda crazy right? From big and slow to fast, quick, and questionably small. It’s like when Pulp decided to not be an also-ran post-punk band anymore when they made His ‘n’ Hers. You know what? Jarvis Cocker might be a better option at center than Jordan Hill.
Detroit Pistons: GZA - Liquid Swords