Alex Wong is an NBA freelance writer whose work has appeared in GQ, The New Yorker, Sports on Earth, and Complex, among other publications.
Two of my favorite things are returning in October. The ninth season of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" premieres on Oct. 1, while we kick off the 2017-18 NBA season on the 17th, with Kyrie Irving returning to Cleveland as a member of the Boston Celtics in the first game on the schedule.
To celebrate the return of both Curb and the NBA, here's a look at 15 subplots to keep an eye on heading into the season, with accompanying quotes from the classic HBO comedy show:
"He wanted to do a stop and chat. I didn't want to do a stop and chat."
I basically live by all of Larry David’s rules of engaging society. In one episode, Larry refuses to engage a man on the sidewalk who recognizes him and wants to stop to have a full conversation.
Shouts to Irving for following one of Larry David's social rules on his "First Take" appearance, where he refused to get into a discussion about anything with Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman:
"Oh, if you're very much woke, there's no such thing as distractions" is already a quote of the season candidate. And even though we still don't know the whole story behind why Irving decided to leave Cleveland, this interview has made it clear that every interview with Irving will be a must-watch this season, if only just to see how much he's capable of replicating the Kobe System vibes he's been giving off since arriving in Boston.
The Celtics have overhauled a roster which won 53 games last season, earned the No. 1 seed in the East, and made it to the Eastern Conference finals. Irving is the team's point guard and will be expected to pull it together in time for another deep playoff run.
Irving might dodge all of the questions we have for him off the court, but on it, he'll be expected to show that, free from LeBron James' shadow, he's ready to carve out his own path back to another championship.
"A lie is a gesture, it's a courtesy, it's a little respect."
In the first season of Curb, Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen invite Larry and Cheryl to a Paul Simon concert. Thanks to some confusion, Larry thinks the Dansons ditched them and went to the show without him, telling Cheryl that if they were going to be stood up, the Dansons could have at least told them a lie instead of ignoring them completely.
Cavs fans might want the same courtesy from LeBron, who can leave Cleveland next summer as a free agent. The consensus around some circles in the league is that James is destined to join the Los Angeles Lakers next season. Where there's smoke, there's usually fire.
And given the Lakers appear to be the primary destination for Paul George, whom the Cavs tried to acquire after their Finals loss to the Warriors, and the fact Russell Westbrook - another player who's always tied to the Lakers - has yet to sign an extension with the Thunder, it's not far-fetched to envision LeBron heading West and forming yet another superteam.
With Irving's departure, and Isaiah Thomas not expected to start the season as he recovers from a hip injury, the Cavs appear the most vulnerable they've been since James' return. Of course, this is also the same LeBron James who's made seven consecutive Finals appearances, so we're not ready to write the Cavs' eulogy just yet.
Still, James' impending free agency looms as a potential distraction, and while he might not have his mind made up, it promises to be the storyline to keep an eye on throughout the season.
"Sometimes I like to pretend I'm deaf and try to imagine what it would be like not to be able to hear them. Not so bad."
At a breakfast with Cheryl, Larry hears singing birds outside and drops this ridiculous quote about wanting to be voluntarily deaf.
This one is for DeMarcus Cousins and the New Orleans Pelicans, who are looking to improve upon back-to-back disappointing seasons without playoff basketball. They've started poorly out of the gate (1-11 in 2015-16, 1-9 last season), eliminating themselves from postseason contention right away in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.
Cousins and Anthony Davis took a bit of time to figure out how to play together after the Pelicans traded for Boogie at the All-Star break, and a playoff spot is no guarantee even if everyone stays healthy. But the clock is ticking. Cousins will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, and while Davis won't hit the market until 2021, he's already creeping up the list of superstars most likely to demand an exit if things don't improve.
Cousins has put together incredible numbers throughout his career, but he's yet to make the playoffs, and his inability to control his temper and his indifference on the defensive end continue to be sources of criticism about his game. This may be the year Boogie can finally drown out the noise, and help the Pelicans get back to the playoffs in the West.
"I'm trying to elevate small talk to medium talk."
At Susie and Jeff’s dinner party, Larry tries to elevate a conversation with someone he doesn’t know by asking them about his love life, and justifies it by explaining that he wants to elevate the concept of small talk.
This quote is dedicated to the Minnesota Timberwolves, who were everyone's dark horse pick to make a leap last season, but ended up with a disappointing 31 wins in Tom Thibodeau's first season as head coach. The Wolves set out to improve their roster this summer, trading for Jimmy Butler and signing Taj Gibson and Jeff Teague in free agency.
Pairing Butler with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins gives Minnesota a formidable Big Three in the West. The Wolves will be one of the toughest teams to play on a nightly basis, and could replicate what Thibodeau did during his peak years running the Bulls, when his teams consistently outworked the competition and overachieved during the regular season.
If Towns and Wiggins make a leap as well, the Wolves could enter the playoff conversation in the West. A year after we spent all summer buzzing about Minnesota, we're ready to do it again. You could say they're ready to elevate themselves from small talk to medium talk.
"Pretty good. Pret-ty, pret-ty, pret-ty good."
A season after he was the runner-up in MVP voting while playing point guard in Houston, James Harden will now have to figure out how to run an offense with Chris Paul alongside him. A year after losing Kevin Durant and after watching Westbrook literally do it all by himself, Sam Presti has given his MVP some much-needed help by trading for George and acquiring Carmelo Anthony.
How these pairings mesh will go a long way toward deciding whether there will be some competition for seeding at the top of the West this season. Paul, Westbrook, and George are all potential free agents next summer, which only adds to the intrigue in Houston and Oklahoma City. If it all falls apart, you can't blame Presti and Daryl Morey for swinging for the fences.
"Let's go upstairs and all get under the covers and sob."
When close friend Richard Lewis comes over and wants to put his upcoming HBO special on Larry’s TV, the plan falls apart as Larry is unable to get the television to work, and suggests Scrabble instead. When Richard complains, this is Larry’s response. It’s also an apt quote for the rest of the league chasing the Golden State Warriors.
While many teams were aggressive this summer in upgrading their roster to challenge the Warriors, Golden State quietly upgraded its lineup as well, re-signing all of its key players while adding Nick Young and Omri Casspi.
It's painful enough to watch Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Durant, and Draymond Green annihilate teams on a nightly basis, but now we might have to witness Swaggy P throwing lobs to JaVale McGee in the fourth quarter of 30-point blowouts. It won't be pretty on most nights for the rest of the league.
Add in the fact the Warriors don't have to talk about their 73-win season and blowing a 3-1 lead to the Cavs in the Finals, and the path is set for Golden State to push for 70-plus wins again, if it wants to, and a second of god knows how many consecutive championships. The path is never that easy, especially when you're defending a title, but heading into the season, there's really no argument for anyone winning the title except Golden State.
"We'll love each other throughout this lifetime, but after death through all eternity."
"You mean this is ... this is continuing into the afterlife?"
When Cheryl and Larry practice renewing their wedding vows, Larry is a bit perturbed by the fact that their marriage will extend past this lifetime.
This quote is a salute to Anthony, who's finally free from being a New York Knick, having outlasted the Phil Jackson era, survived a summer of trade rumors, and came out of it a cult hero thanks to the rise of Hoodie Melo.
It appeared Anthony and the Knicks would be stuck together for all eternity, continuing into the afterlife. Now, we get to see whether Melo, George, and Westbrook can form their own superteam in Oklahoma City.
"Are you my Caucasian?"
"I'm your ..."
"Are you my Caucasian?"
"I'm your m-----f------ Caucasian."
In honor of the best Curb episode of all time, and Krazee-Eyez Killa, we dedicate this exchange to Gordon Hayward, the other star acquisition of Boston's busy summer. Hayward will be in the spotlight after leaving the Utah Jazz to sign a four-year, $128-million contract with the Celtics.
Last season, he averaged career highs of 21.9 points and 5.4 assists per game, shot nearly 40 percent from three, and led the Jazz back to the postseason for the first time since 2012. Despite at times conceding to Joe Johnson in crunch time, Hayward averaged 24.1 points in 11 playoff games. He'll be expected to replicate those numbers in Boston.
In Utah, Hayward quietly grew into one of the most complete players in the league. The spotlight gets a little brighter this season.
"Nobody told me that I can be anonymous and tell people. I would've taken that option. You can't have it halfway … you're either anonymous, or you're not! What is it!”
Larry David cannot handle it when he donates money but realizes that he won’t be recognized, but instead is an anonymous donor, with no one knowing that he did a good deed.
This was originally a quote for Durant and all of his secret social media accounts, but we've probably exhausted our conversations about that. So let's dedicate this section to Nikola Jokic, the 22-year-old Serbian who quietly put together a spectacular sophomore season in Denver, averaging 16.7 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 4.9 assists while shooting 57.8 percent.
"I just ... I just can't stand the sound of the human voice."
Larry has never been able to stand Suzie’s daughter Sammi’s singing voice. It’s the same annoyance that some players have expressed toward the media, so we’re giving this quote to C.J. McCollum, who responded to the annual tradition of the media ranking players by suggesting that writers should be graded as well.
The media-versus-player subplot might not be of interest for hoops fans who just want to watch some good basketball, but it’s also a conversation that won’t go away.
In recent years, some of the top players in the league have expressed their displeasure and distrust at certain members of the media, and it's a subplot worth keeping an eye on all season.
“There’s gotta be a time, there’s gotta be a cutoff point where you can’t have birthday parties. You’re so desperate for a party that you have to have a party two weeks after? Wait till next year, you missed it!”
The birthday cutoff is among the most brilliant social conventions Larry has invented, and serves as a reminder that one of the youngest players in the league is about to take on an even bigger role this season.
Remember when Reggie Evans was astounded to find out Giannis Antetokounmpo was just 20 years old back in 2015? After a remarkable 2016-17 season, the secret is officially out on the Greek Freak, and now the question becomes: when will he become one of the top five players in the league. Top three? Top one?
Giannis is the player with the rare physical talent and skill set to be a true one-of-one player in this league. In his fifth season, we might see Giannis vault himself into the MVP conversation. He turns 23 in December, by the way.
“I didn't mean to waste 12 seconds of your precious time.”
When Larry presses two floor buttons in an elevator, it becomes an international incident as Larry has to defend himself by issuing this sarcastic quote. In a lot of ways, the Sixers have been pressing a bunch of elevator buttons in their climb back to respectability in the East.
Nik Stauskas has officially declared The Process over, so off we go. If Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid can remain healthy, Dario Saric can improve on his rookie season and Markelle Fultz lives up to his potential as the No. 1 overall pick, there’s no reason why Philadelphia can’t compete for a playoff spot this season.
Optimism hasn't been this high in Philadelphia in years. We might finally see Sam Hinkie’s master plan come to fruition.
"You know what you are? You're a social assassin."
Nobody has defined Larry David better than Jeff Garlin, who summed up his close friend with this quote. If we were to nominate a social assassin in the NBA, it would be the quiet and stoic Kawhi Leonard, who - coming off a season in which he was part of the MVP conversation - might embark on his own vengeance tour.
You might remember the Spurs had a 25-point lead on the road against the Warriors in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, until he landed on Zaza Pachulia’s foot in the third quarter, and left with an ankle injury that kept him out for the remainder of the series, which the Warriors swept.
The Warriors probably would have won the series anyway, but it definitely remains a what-if in the minds of both Leonard and Gregg Popovich, who went on a rant against Pachulia after his superstar was injured.
The Spurs didn’t make a splash this offseason, while the Thunder and Rockets are garnering much of the conversation surrounding which West teams have the best chance against the Warriors. You can bet Leonard has been soaking it all in, in his own quiet way, of course.
"I see swings of emotion that disturb me a little bit, Larry."
"There's no swings. I'm a hammock. A hammock is very placid."
Larry’s conversation with his therapist can be best applied to the Miami Heat, who had a significant swing last season, starting 11-30 but finishing with a 30-11 flurry and barely missing out on the eighth seed in the East.
Along the way, we learned to fall in love with this group of overachievers, led by perpetually underrated Goran Dragic, the always-entertaining Hassan Whiteside, and everyone’s favorite reclamation project, Dion Waiters. Add in James Johnson, Josh Richardson, and Justise Winslow, and there’s no reason to think Miami can’t continue the momentum it built in the second half of last season.
"People are gonna love you."
"Why are they gonna love me? People dislike me intensely."
In the same way Larry can’t believe why anyone would love him, the same extreme will exist for Lonzo Ball, the Lakers rookie point guard who will garner all the attention at Staples Center this season, for better or worse.
Because of his father’s trash talk, plenty of point guards will be lining up to give Lonzo his welcome-to-the-NBA moment this season. Opposing fans are going to hate him, but I have a feeling Los Angeles is about to fall in love with its incoming rookie star.
(Photos courtesy: Action Images)