For the first time since the Golden State Warriors began their nearly unprecedented stretch of success five years ago, the NBA has no clear-cut favorite to win the title. This has allowed basketball fans—including a number of musicians—the chance to dream that their team has an opportunity to not only compete, but fight for a championship in the 2019-2020 NBA season.
After the huge number of players switching teams this summer and the excitement and disappointment that came with those shifts, many fans are feeling optimistic. Just ask Decemberists singer Colin Meloy, who believes his beloved Trail Blazers finally have added the right players and have a realistic chance of getting to the NBA Finals. The same goes for Counting Crows singer Adam Duritz, who remains optimistic about his Warriors’ chances despite the rash of crippling injuries and departures during the offseason.
But not everyone is hopeful about the prospects of their team. American Football singer Mike Kinsella predicts gloom and doom for his Chicago Bulls, while the guys from JR JR are forecasting another mediocre year for their woebegone Detroit Pistons.
We checked in with those artists and several others ahead of the season tipoff to get their thoughts on how their favorite NBA teams may fare. Read on for their musings, and gauge whether their preseason take is an airball or nothing but net.
On the New York Knicks: Even Phil [Jackson] had a tough time! D’Antoni, Hornacek, etc., the revolving coaching door makes for an extremely unattractive destination for big-time game-changing free agents, and not even my man, the incredibly persuasive filmic icon Spike Lee, has been able so far to lure the top echelon of killers to the vaunted venue on 34th Street. But we hopefuls will look to R.J. Barrett and Ignas Brazdeikas (I just looked at the roster) to channel the spirits of Mike Riordan and Dave “The Rave” Stallworth to turn this thing around. And lest we forget—Harthorne Wingo!
On the Chicago Bulls: “And on the United Center we humbly cry, to all that meet the ear and eye, oh where oh where oh can they be, we pine for the likes of Boerwinkle and Dave Corzine.” Maybe it’s time to give All-Star Weekend perennial Celebrity Game titan Win Butler a 10-day contract; certain to fill the U with Arcade Fire faithful and turn it into a roiling mosh pit of foaming, frothing fandom inspiring a heightened level of play. Or just give it to Perrion Callandret, Adam Mokoka, and Simi Shittu, young hopefuls on the current roster, at least as of early October. These are the guys I’m rooting for.
On the Phoenix Suns: I truly love Becky Hammon, Lindsey Harding, and Nancy Lieberman (whom I saw play in the early NBA Summer League at Cal State-Dominguez Hills in the early ‘80s), but maybe it’s time to go all the way and sign Elena Della Donne to the first female NBA contract. Pick and Pop with Della Donne, with the mascot entertaining the Talking Stick Resorts Casino faithful with halftime recitations of the poetry of John Donne. (“I Am A Little World Made Cunningly” may be a good choice.) They’ll fill the place and create an atmosphere coveted by any and all one-and-done college greats. Everyone will want to play at Talking Stick, provided they never change the name.
Devin Booker’s pretty damned good, too.
Season prediction: Mr. Hornsby did not provide one.
Colin Meloy, The Decemberists
Team: Portland Trail Blazers
There’s been a lot of interesting years, but I feel like the shakeup in the Western Conference is what makes this one more interesting than it would be in other years. The one thing we have going for us is continuity. Aside from [Blazers guard Damian] Lillard, we don’t have the star power of the Clippers and the Lakers, but we do have the continuity that could be the Achilles’ heel of those other teams. I look at our lineup and, to be honest, I’m not quite ready to jump on the propaganda train because there’s some gaps to fill and some unanswered questions, but I think the one true thing we have as a team is chemistry and consistency, and that will hopefully carry us.
I think the [CJ] McCollum-Lillard backcourt is the real deal—we’ve seen that play out—and McCollum is getting better and becoming more into his prime. Last year we had a team built around Lillard’s strengths, and some of those guys are gone, and the guys now are a bit of unknown quantities. Plus [Blazers center Jusuf] Nurkic, with his broken leg, won’t be back until February at the earliest, so I feel like there’s a lot of question marks.
I’m bullish, and I’m supposed to be like, “Blazers or die,” but my enthusiasm is a little bit tempered. The [Blazers head coach Terry] Stotts-Lillard connection is strong. The Lillard leadership role is unquestioned. There’s some questions about the [Hassan] Whiteside deal, and hopefully, he’ll fold into it well, but that remains to be seen. I guess I’m preaching moderation at the same time.
Season prediction: I am feeling strong, and let’s say they’ll get into the 50-plus win range. I think that they’ve been sold low. The Vegas odds are never what they should be for the Blazers, so you can always add 10 more games to that total. I think we definitely make it to the Western Conference Championship—even though I was tempering my enthusiasm.
Daniel Platzman, Imagine Dragons
Team: Atlanta Hawks
Last season, there wasn’t too much expectation, and it allowed the guys to really play free and grow into themselves. It was awesome seeing Trae Young just come to life and dominate. His court vision is crazy. It’s really fun to watch him run the offense, and it’s clear that the team has awesome chemistry.
We have a lot of new players this year, and I love the rookies we have. I think they’re going to have a lot of depth. It’s nice to have Bruno Fernando and big muscle at the five. I think Kevin Huerter is going to have a great season. De’Andre Hunter plays such good defense, and Alex Len was having an amazing end of last season, and I’m hoping some of that carries over.
I’ve never met Coach Pierce, but his track record of working with player development speaks for itself. It happened again last year with Trae. I’m super excited that he’s got a chance to do something with this team, and I think it can be a really special season. We have a chance now with [2019 first-round pick Cam] Reddish and Hunter—those three can really be incredible together.
John Collins can have a crazy breakout year too. That’s the other thing. He and Trae, I think, have the strongest chemistry—the John Collins alley-oop is the Hawks’ steak and potatoes play.
Season prediction: I think basically it’s the Hawks, Miami, and Detroit are going to be fighting for that eighth seed. I would say 41-41 as their record, an even season. But I think we’ll get the eighth seed. I think Hawks should finish with a better record than those teams.
Adam Duritz, Counting Crows
Team: Golden State Warriors
Counting Crows singer Adam Duritz shared his prediction in a video alongside Warriors coach Steve Kerr below.
— SPIN (@SPIN) October 23, 2019
Jack Dolan, Twin Peaks
Team: Chicago Bulls
The Bulls are still a very young team with some promising offensive pieces that just haven’t really had much opportunity to play together as a whole. Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine consistently show flashes of superstar talent, and are both looking at potential all-star seasons if they can manage to stay healthy this year.
That being said, there’s a lot of give to this team as far as our depth and how we perform defensively. Even on our best days, we’re simply just not very good at keeping people off the board. Late-season acquisition Otto Porter Jr. and off-season grab Thaddeus Young could really help us out in that regard while adding a little depth and hopefully a little guidance to a team that oftentimes just simply looks confused.
One of my favorite new guys to watch on this team is Wendell Carter Jr. It’s hard to follow in the footsteps of Joakim Noah or Bobby Portis, outright characters that were often asked to do a lot for a team lacking in height, but I really think Wendell is the real deal. He’s great off the boards and his presence defensively, I think, is underrated. I’m hoping he gets the looks he deserves in his second year. He’s got that grit you love to see in a big young guy coming in and the athleticism to back it up.
On one hand, I can see the improvement already. On paper, this should work, right? But with young teams, especially ones trying to rebuild with a somewhat rotating cast of guys, nothing is really for certain. We only won 22 games last year, though, so I’m going to go out on a limb say we can do much better than that.
Season prediction: OK so I already went out on a limb by saying we’ll win more than 22 games, so let’s go out on an even bigger one and say … 40? Forty-five would be amazing, but I think we’re still a little too green and haven’t really seen new head coach Jim Boylen take control of this team or present any kind of true identity yet. This year will show us whether or not what we’re building right now is even viable three to five years from now. Lots of work to do!
Mike Kinsella, American Football
Team: Chicago Bulls
We’ve fallen so far that’s it hard for me know who the Bulls really have anymore. Once [former Bulls point guard] D-Rose left, it has just sucked. I really like the potential of Coby White—he seems like a cool guy too.
And unlike the past few years, I’m going to keep up with them early to see if they’re fun to watch. Everyone my age is grandfathered into being a Bulls fan because of the ‘90s, but these days, there really isn’t a reason to be. Even the coach they got, the first couple of weeks after he was hired, all the players already hated him! It’s ugly.
Season prediction: If they can just put up a challenge night after night, that will be enough for me. But I think they’re going to get 18 wins this year, especially now since the East is good.
Dan Zott and Josh Epstein, JR JR
Team: Detroit Pistons
Epstein: If the Pistons were a 2014 NBA 2K squad, we’d be pretty unstoppable.
Zott: I liked a lot of the offseason signings. Considering we had basically nothing to work with moneywise, it feels good to have a better bench than last year. Derrick Rose, Sekou Doumbouya, Markieff Morris, and Tony Snell are decent enough being as handcuffed as we were. We still don’t have a true starting [shooting guard] or [small forward], or [point guard], for that matter), so I’m not sure if we do much better than 41-41 like last year.
Epstein: Andre Drummond is going to have to prove he’s a top 2 player on a playoff team. He could make a team like Golden State legitimate contenders, but is he worth a max deal?
Zott: We need a few more savvy moves to even be in the conversation of getting to the second round of the playoffs to me. We have Reggie Jackson’s contract expiring, so it could get interesting at the trade deadline.
Epstein: I think they’ll be the 8th seed but finish 39-43
Zott: I think it’s reasonable that we can win one more game than last year and be 42-40. Maybe we’re all gonna realize we miss Ish Smith, though. And this is how being a Pistons fan goes … you hate saying goodbye to almost every player, even backup point guards. That’s what it’s come to.
Julien Ehrlich, Whitney
Team: Portland Trail Blazers
There’s so much unknown this year given all the moves [Blazers GM Neil] Olshey and his staff made early this summer. A lot to worry about, but just as much to be psyched on, in my opinion.
Everyone seems to be very iffy on Hassan Whiteside’s play, but I feel like a change of scenery will be big for him. I guess overall I’m gonna predict that there will be quite a few stumbles early on in the year, but we’ll end up with the fifth or sixth seed heading into the playoffs.
Season prediction: I think we’ll be somewhere around 49 wins heading into the postseason. All the preseason predictions consistently count PDX out, and every year we wind up in the playoff picture. I see no difference this season, and if a couple of things go our way come late spring, we could be looking at a run back to the WCF.
Dave Hartley, The War on Drugs
Team: Philadelphia 76ers
I think you could make a case that the Sixers have the greatest variance of any franchise heading into this season. It feels like this is a transitionary year between eras—LeBron is aging out and the Warriors are in disarray, so it feels like it’s anybody’s title to grab, which is one reason there was so much bonkers player movement this offseason.
For the record, I feel like the looming storm clouds of global warming are another reason so many GMs were willing to go all-in and trade a zillion far-future draft picks for a star. These GMs are lords of statistical projections and … let’s just say statistical projections of what the world is going to look like in 10 years when climate change really starts to get rolling aren’t exactly rosy. So f–k it, why not trade an unprotected 2026 first-round pick?
It’s not crazy to imagine the Sixers winning a title this year; their series with the eventual-champs Toronto was the most competitive of the entire playoffs, and we have elite talent at every position. But holy s–t, it’s a weird roster. We are going to loot and pillage on defense. Length, size, athleticism and intelligence at every position.
Ben Simmons is such a good defender. [Newly-acquired forward Al] Horford is as brainy as it gets. Newbie Josh Richardson will be huge for us on both sides of the ball. But everything stops and starts with Joel Embiid. If he stays healthy and lean as the regular season winds down and we head into the postseason, it’s game on. If he gets injured or fades due to conditioning (like he did last year), we won’t be able to compete with the elite teams in the league.
Also, we are going to miss Jimmy Butler [who signed with Miami Heat] more than the diehards will let on. I’m not totally clear on who is going to create for us late in games when defenses sag off of Ben and transition buckets aren’t to be had. Also, our spacing may suffer with the loss of JJ Redick. Tobias Harris and Richardson are above-average shooters, but neither will get a defender glued to him the way JJ does. Lots of questions, but lots of excitement about the roster.
Season prediction: I’m going to say 55 wins and a Finals berth after a physical bloodbath of a seven-game series with the Bucks.
Ishmael Butler, Shabazz Palaces
Team: Boston Celtics
This is hard for me to say because I never liked them as a kid, and to root for Danny Ainge and associates just seems feels wrong, but since Coach Stevens has arrived, I really like the personnel and the style of play. I think since Kyrie has moved on to Brooklyn, they can regain their chemistry from two years ago and make a deep playoff push this year. [Forward Jayson] Tatum and [forward Jaylen] Brown I think are poised to lead and have very strong campaigns, with the addition of the magnificent Kemba Walker, who is a proven winning force and full of magic.
The whole roster is strong and rounds out well with [Gordon] Hayward more comfortable and fearless two years removed from the injury, [Enes] Kanter and Robert Williams look good at the bigs positions, and of course, the hard-nosed Smart, who I think has added more facets to his game.
The rookies are super solid: G. Williams is a hard baller, and C. Edwards is a future star, in my opinion, on some [former Detroit Pistons super-sub] Vinnie Johnson-type s–t.
Coach Stevens is a master, and this feels like the type of squad he likes most: Unselfish and ready to play with and for each other. They will improve over the course of the season, and by playoff time, be a tough out in the East.
Season prediction: Celtics will go to the Eastern Conference Finals and play the 76ers.
Doc Coyle, Bad Wolves
Team: New York Knicks
I think it remains to be seen with regard to the young players’ potential. Frank Ntilikina and Kevin Knox are historically inefficient on offense, but they are so damn young. At least we know Frank has an elite skill as a defender and showed great promise on the French national team.
Everyone knows Mitchell Robinson is the most ready for prime time in the Tyson Chandler/DeAndre Jordan mold with higher shot blocking potential. RJ Barrett is the real linchpin to the young core because although he looked very rough in summer league and has struggled with efficiency as well, he has found his footing in the preseason. He has an NBA body, he is aggressive going to the basket, has a knack for playmaking. He could be a Detroit-era Grant Hill-type if all goes well, and a lot is riding on that.
Along with Allonzo Trier, Damyean Dotson, and Ignas Brazdeikis, I am excited to see these guys develop. Until one of these kids show all-star potential, the Knicks rebuild will look like a bust from the outside looking in. The world needs to see a competent franchise before free agents believe it’s a choice destination.
The Knicks have added a ton of talent since last year. All of their young guys are older and better. I expect a much more competent and competitive team. They have some real tough New York-type personalities on the team like Taj Gibson, Julius Randle, and Marcus Morris. Knicks fans appreciate defense, hustle. They won’t be a pushover. It will be a year of progress and improvement.
Season prediction: My guess on the record is 31-51.
Adam Levin, X Ambassadors
Team: Los Angeles Lakers
I’m very optimistic, obviously. Watching the preseason isn’t always the best indicator, but this team hasn’t played a regular season together yet. It just looks like they’re going to mesh well. This the first time since the Heat really formed in 2010 that there isn’t a team that’s expected to win it all from the start, no questions asked.
LeBron is not cooked, obviously. He has spent so much time and money on his body that he’s not even close to being done. Anthony Davis is a Top 3 player in the league—may be one. The way he handles the ball, dribbles, dunks, and spins, it feels like he’s 5’10,” but he’s 7-feet tall. I’m [more] excited about him than LeBron—and I love LeBron—but he’s going to be the face of the team for a long time, I think. There’s no middle ground in L.A.: If it doesn’t go well, he’s gone next year, but if it does, he’ll be there forever.
I really liked Lonzo [Ball] and [Brandon] Ingram, but you have to give a lot to get someone like Anthony Davis. I think it was totally worth it. We still got [forward Kyle] Kuzma; he’s amazing. We’re going to have a seven-footer in a game at all times, with Anthony Davis and Dwight Howard. Dwight can rebound his ass off.
Season prediction: I 100 percent think we’re going to make the playoffs and the Finals. I think we’ll win it all, and we’ll win at least 65 games in the process, but who knows. I’m very confident, but who knows what the rest of the league has in store since the talent is more spread than it has ever been.
Brandon Schwartzel, FIDLAR
Team: Los Angeles Lakers
I think they’re gonna go off. LeBron is on some serious solidifying his GOAT status, and winning in the West would strengthen that. Anthony Davis is finally at a good organization. No shade on New Orleans, but he wasn’t gonna win there. And after the Warriors’ last few runs and now having Kawhi in L.A., I think they’re are gonna be on a mission to shut them and the rest of the league down. Also, with [JaVale] McGee, a potentially reborn Dwight Howard, and a sick mix of role-players and specialists, it’s gonna be f–king nuts. They also seem like they’re already vibing chemistry-wise. Only injuries can stop ‘em.
The coaching staff and management is a bit of a toss-up for me. I’m hoping that they won’t f–k it up like they’ve done the past several years, but I feel like with players like AD and LeBron, you can’t really afford to f–k that up.
Season prediction: I think they go 56-26. NBA Championship in five games, thinking against Philly. LeBron MVP, and AD Defensive Player of the Year.
Steve Sladkowski, PUP
Team: Toronto Raptors
The beauty is that it doesn’t have to get better than last year. It was a crazy fever dream, and I think it was one of the craziest outlier seasons in NBA history. To have experienced it and to have been in the city when they won the championship and they way they did, it was just a perfect little narrative. This year is like, all of the Raptors fans in Toronto are looking at each other like, “This is new.” In a way, we’ve faded back into obscurity, but in another way, that’s something that will never be forgotten.
The big player for me this year is [small forward] OG Anunoby. I think he had a down year last year due to off-court and freak injuries (his appendix burst), and I think he can make a leap like Pascal Siakam did last year. I like Kyle Lowry, and there aren’t many people on this team who feel like they’re going to quit now that they’ve won. Lowry is always going to be the face of the franchise. Even with Kawhi there last year, it was as much Lowry’s team—even when they traded DeMar DeRozan. This is the thing: There’s so many guys—I think it’s a Zach Lowe-ism—that there’s no bad players on this team, unlike the Knicks.
Marc Gasol and Lowry are going to be around for the whole year, so it’s not like they’re going to be lacking leadership in terms of intensity. Kawhi is a God, 100 percent. Fans would have felt differently if there was this Cinderella run that fell short.
Season prediction: I think they finish this year in the mix for the playoffs; let’s put them in the high 40s for wins, maybe finish between third and fifth. It would be insane for them to find their way back in the Eastern Conference Finals, but they’re the champs for a reason, even though a huge part of it was Kawhi.
A lot of people are discounting them, and the narrative focus of the NBA has shifted a little bit. As a Raptors fan, I think everyone is OK with the Raptors being a little bit forgotten about now, even though they are the champs. It’s a fun time, and the Raptors championship being the catalyst for it is really cool. I think the Raptors are going to surprise people somehow.
Alex Cameron and Justin ‘Juice’ Nijssen
Team: Boston Celtics
The Celtics look damn good this season. Handsome men decked out in garments of green, white, and gold, dancing across a parquet court of oak, weaving around each other in patterns of elliptical beauty. Best case scenario: Our boys use the memories of last year as motivation to propel themselves into yet another era of diligent and disciplined Celtics basketball. At the very least, the last two seasons have provided the young core with a ton of experience and IQ training. They’re not gonna be easy to beat at any point in the season.
[Head coach Brad] Stevens accepted full responsibility for last year’s team underperforming. Any dedicated Celtics fan has to go on record and officially accept his apology. [General manager] Ainge is a ruthless monster, but he’s our monster.
Season prediction: Celtics will go 54-28 in the 2019-2020 NBA season. A reasonable expectation is a confident squad showing up in the second round. Taking a look at this year’s Celtics, with the rapidly maturing young talent, and the veterans with the right kinda chip on their shoulders, there’s a chance for Stevens and Kemba [Walker] to build a playoff-ready chemistry that will be a ton of fun to watch, and a nightmare to come up against.