The new-look Rockets should be both entertaining and relevant in 2013-14. (David J. Phillip/AP
If you had to choose a mere five teams to watch regularly this season, which would they be?
With the cost of NBA League Pass -- the platform that allows fans to view most every regular-season game -- prohibitive to some, the league offers basketball die-hards an alternative. Rather than leave a pricey, league-wide subscription as the only choice on the table, the NBA now gives fans a more customizable option: the opportunity to purchase a cheaper, online-only package with access to the games of five subscriber-selected teams. This creates both a functional compromise and a fascinating mental exercise.
There's a delicate art in constructing the perfect, personalized five-team package, inevitably drawing on both personal preference (favorite teams, players, etc.) and pragmatic concerns (schedule structure, division, time zone, etc.). But I'd also urge interested parties to pay mind to the 30 teams' League Pass personality types, whether to stack their selections by style or balance them out as best as possible.
The appeal: Indulge your hardwood curiosities with some of the strangest -- and most captivating -- teams in the league.
Charting the unexpected is one of the pleasures of the NBA's regular season, and each of these five teams offers a window into that great unknown. New Orleans' youth and positional flexibility leaves their season as an open question, set to unfold in progress, clutter, or even fringe playoff contention. Dallas brings a fascinating juxtaposition of the efficient and the bold, as Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis, and Jose Calderon will form the basis of a strange (and likely effective) offense. Brooklyn has the benefit of being refreshed in most every respect; while Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson, and other core players remain from last year's team, the hiring of Jason Kidd as head coach and a high-profile roster overhaul give the Nets a novel appeal.
For their part, Cleveland and Washington are fitting foils, defined by talented young point guards as they attempt to overcome their teammates' injuries to compete for an Eastern Conference playoff berth. Either could again wind up in the lottery if that endeavor goes poorly, but each has intriguing potential with a wide range of possible outcomes.
The appeal: Keep up with popular, successful teams at the expense of League Pass pragmatism.
This is admittedly a logistical classification, but one can't well separate a team's League Pass identity from their exposure on national television. It's one thing for a displaced Thunder fan to pay out for every one of their favorite team's games, but another entirely for a fan of the league at large to waste a valuable League Pass slot on a team that can be readily found elsewhere on television. Each of these five teams will have roughly a third of their games (or more) broadcast on national TV this season, making them a bit imprudent to select in multiples. Pick up one of these teams to follow along with their winning season if you will, but try to avoid piling up too many lest you squander your League Pass value.
THE MANIC PIXIE DREAM TEAMS
The appeal: Learn to embrace basketball life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.
There are no options more delightfully indulgent. None of these five is especially likely to win the title this season (though Golden State and Houston come closest), but all promise fevered entertainment over the 82-game course. Detroit is easily the purest example of this kind, as an array of athletic bigs and frantic guards provide the perfect joint vehicle for slapdash brilliance. Minnesota, equipped to run relentlessly and move the ball without pause, is due a return to charismatic form. Golden State has made some fantastic moves to bolster its defense and balance its performance, but remains so explosive that watching the Warriors should still feel like a guilty pleasure.
GALLERY: Top 100 NBA players for 2013-14
Despite changes through its front office, coaching staff, and roster, Denver still has an imitable lightness, forged through Ty Lawson's waterbug quicks, Kenneth Faried's springy relentlessness, and JaVale McGee's unquellable whimsy. Houston comes with a bit more narrative weight than the others in this bunch, but has amazing stylistic potential -- between sprinting into three-pointers and working Dwight Howard in the pick-and-roll -- as to warrant easy admission.
THE LOVABLE LOSERS
The appeal: Enjoy the regular season through the small victories, fundamental problems, and general anarchy of a flawed, stilted team.
Despite the fact that a number of franchises are pretty clearly positioning themselves for the 2014 draft, the cast of expected lottery teams is nonetheless charming in its own right. Utah should be a League Pass staple this season, as there's too much unfettered potential between Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter, and Trey Burke to let them go unwatched. Phoenix will unveil a new-look roster clad in new uniforms under a new head coach, all of which serves as an elaborate backdrop for the unbridling of dynamo guard Eric Bledsoe. Through ill-fitting pieces and all, Orlando still has its share of productive and engaging young talent, too, spearheaded by No. 2 overall pick Victor Oladipo -- an intriguing two-way player in the midst of a positional shift.
Boston (with Rajon Rondo still sidelined) is a fascinating vacuum, in which any of several young players could take on larger roles or produce more than is expected. Yet no lottery team can ever really compare to the talent soup of Sacramento's roster, which incorporates more disparate flavors than could ever be considered sensible. The Kings may be under new management, but the franchise still has plenty of practice when it comes to turning in miserable seasons of some redeeming entertainment value.
THE WORKING PROFESSIONALS
The appeal: Appreciate NBA veterans executing as intended, often to great effect.
These teams might seem too staid for some, but there's plenty to be enjoyed in the workings of a veteran team that knows what it's doing. San Antonio is the prime example of that model; you can delight in the creativity of Tony Parker or the brilliant structure of the Spurs' play design, but all roads lead to the same glowing admiration. Chicago has a bit more broad appeal due to the energizing play of Derrick Rose, but nonetheless forges its contention with the kind of effort rebounding and relentless execution that needs to be seen in repetition to be fully enjoyed. The same is more or less true of Indiana and Memphis -- teams that go to incredible lengths to deny and prevent, in the process dominating the NBA metagame.
Atlanta might seem the odd duck in a group of contenders, but the Hawks will draw on Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Elton Brand, Kyle Korver, and new head coach Mike Budenholzer as core personalities -- workers, all. They'll be a bit less consistent due to some young contributors and a relative lack of talent, but will remain committed to executing a studied game plan to the best of their collective ability.
The appeal: Fall back on some of the NBA's known quantities.
Some of these squads will fare better than others, but overall the experience between them stands to be similarly static. In that, I mean only that the floor and ceiling of these particular rosters presents a fairly narrow window for performance. Milwaukee, as tends to be the case, is what it is; the roster was reloaded and spared its prior limitations, but lacks an explosive prospect that could elevate this group beyond its current form. Portland looks to be a playoff contender, but not quite good enough to secure a spot nor shaky enough to fall out of the race. Toronto is in an equivalent spot in a weaker conference -- safely in the mix, but too fundamentally flawed to make any serious run in the East. With the $40.5 million-signing of Al Jefferson, Charlotte has bought itself a few spots in the rankings, but still lacks any catalytic hope. These teams can all be entertaining still, so long as the viewer knows what they're in for: a steady ride plotted to a particular end. There's comfort in that reliability, no matter the result.
THE LOST CAUSE
The team: Philadelphia 76ers
The appeal: Morbid curiosity.