Diehlman at Halftime: an NBA Weekly Column

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As the 2022-23 NBA season gets underway, we cannot forget who we lost this summer.

Boston Celtics’ great Bill Russell died at the age of 88 on July 31. He was the cornerstone of the early Celtics’ dynasty, winning 11 titles in 13 seasons as a player while simultaneously acting as his squad’s head coach in his last few seasons, making him the NBA’s first Black head coach.

Not only was Russell’s jersey retired by Boston, but No. 6 will be retired across the association for teams who haven’t already done so. The number cannot be issued any more, and those who are currently wearing it, such as LeBron James, will be grandfathered in.

As we enter the final season of “Diehlman at Halftime” here at the Whit, this year’s column will be dedicated to Bill Russell.

So, who’s raising eyebrows at the moment, as we begin with a special edition of “Diehlman at Halftime?”

Note: Predictions were made before Tuesday’s games.

The Elite Teams (1-10)

Golden State Warriors, Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, L.A. Clippers, Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, Phoenix Suns, Memphis Grizzlies, and Dallas Mavericks.

Reasoning

These ten teams are ready for primetime. They know that their championship windows are open for business, although some won’t be open for as long as others.

Golden State still has the same core that propelled them to their most recent championship. The 76ers have a filthy trio of Joel Embiid, James Harden and Tyrese Maxey. Miami was one win away from the NBA Finals last year.

I have a couple of concerns for the Celtics and Suns, however, in regards to team chemistry and atmosphere. Celtics’ head coach Ime Udoka is suspended for this season due to inappropriate conduct with a female staff member. Meanwhile, Phoenix is dealing with two issues, the first being that DeAndre Ayton clearly doesn’t want to be there anymore, since the restricted free agent offer sheet he signed with the Indiana Pacers was matched by Phoenix. The second issue is that Suns’ owner Robert Sarver is in the process of selling the team due to the toxic work environment he created.

Other than that, I like these teams’ chances to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy in 2023.

The “You’re Getting There, But Not Quite” Teams (11-20)

L.A. Lakers, Denver Nuggets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Toronto Raptors, Atlanta Hawks, New Orleans Pelicans, Chicago Bulls, Orlando Magic, and New York Knicks.

Reasoning

While there are teams in this section that have championship aspirations, a couple of them are still lacking a piece or two in order to be taken seriously.

Orlando has young stars and is ready to start the Paolo Banchero era, but they would likely be a quick first-round exit if they make the postseason or play-in tournament.

New Orleans will need time to re-introduce superstar Zion Williamson into the lineup, since he didn’t play last season due to a Jones fracture in his foot.

And what will happen with the Lakers? New head coach Darvin Ham might experiment with Russell Westbrook coming off the bench after Westbrook’s disastrous first season in L.A. last year. Anthony Davis has appeared in just 76 games over the course of the last two regular seasons. LeBron James, who is entering year 20 in the league, will turn 38 on Dec. 30.

Any of these teams could be a pleasant surprise. We’ll soon find out!

Code Red! This is Not a Drill! (21-30)

Washington Wizards, Indiana Pacers, Charlotte Hornets, Portland Trailblazers, Sacramento Kings, Houston Rockets, Detroit Pistons, Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, and Utah Jazz.

Reasoning

If you thought the days of teams “trusting the process” were over, oh boy do I have something for you! We might see tanking like you’ve never seen before.

You may remember last year when I mentioned the name Victor Wembanyama. Many expect the 7’3” 18-year-old center from France, who has an 8-foot wingspan, to go No. 1 overall in the 2023 draft. Richard Jefferson, who was one of LeBron James’ former teammates, even said that if James and Wembanyama were in the same draft, LeBron would be selected second.

Yes, you read that correctly.

Do not be at all surprised if we see some serious loss from these squads at the end of the season. Go watch this Wembanyama’s highlights, he is basically a taller version of Kevin Durant!

Teams in this section of the rankings like the Spurs and Jazz have nothing to play for this year, so why not start thinking about the future—perhaps with a generational prospect on your team?

For comments/questions about this story tweet @TheWhitSports.

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