"The toughest thing for me is I have to get on TV and fake it for seven months that it’s not going to be the Warriors and Cavs in the finals again."
That's what Charles Barkley said just before the NBA season kicked off on Tuesday.
I joked on Twitter that he was either forgetting that the San Antonio Spurs were dominating Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals before Kawhi Leonard was injured or he's already accounting for Zaza Pachulia pulling another dirty play to take him out again.
But this goes beyond Barkley. A recent poll of ESPN NBA analysts showed that all of them, across the board, think the Golden State Warriors will win the Western Conference and go on to win the title.
Not only that, all but five of those analysts picked the Houston Rockets to top the Spurs in the Southwest Division.
It's been tough for the Spurs or their fans to play the "disrespect" or "nobody believes in us" card. For years, they've been the paragon of the NBA, the most respected franchise in the league, one that should never be underestimated.
Over the last five seasons, the Spurs are averaging 60 wins per year, have been to the conference finals three times, the NBA Finals twice, and won a championship.
Welcome back to the era of the under-estimated, underrated Spurs.
I'd like to welcome back all Spurs fans to the era of having the best player in the league with the best coach in the league and an improved supporting cast being told that despite winning 61 games last year, dominating the Warriors in the conference finals before an injury destroyed the series, and making improvements to the starting lineup and their bench in the offseason...
Despite all of that... most people don't think the Spurs will even win their division.
Tonight's the night that the Spurs and their fans can start to prove everyone wrong.
But keep this in mind when you're watching the Spurs play on KENS 5 in the opener:
1. Kawhi's not playing, which means that the team will look even better when he's back.
2. Tony Parker's not playing either, which means that the rotations will improve when he gets back.
3. The new additions will take time to gel together, even longer because of the above-listed injuries.
4. LaMarcus Aldridge just got paid and he's already talked about how much happier he is with the team and his role along with his relationship with head coach Gregg Popovich. You'll see this reflected in his improved pick-and-roll play and his passing.
5. Before Kawhi gets back, it's going to be fun to watch Rudy Gay shine and play his best basketball in years as a part of this Spurs system.
So just remember where we were before the season started as the Spurs are pushing to win 60 games again, NBA championship contenders again, and at the top of the division again.
Success this season will be all the sweeter for that reason.