The professional basketball season starts tonight with a terrific double-header on TNT, and a full slate of good games tomorrow. For some people this counts as exciting, while others couldn't care less. A third group (perhaps limited to just me) wishes they could be giddy, but are instead simply relieved: Finally, a welcome respite from poll mania and angst (two things that are not inversely proportional).

Anyway, there are a few interesting storylines in the league this year? Among them:

Can Donnie Walsh save the Knicks?

Will Gilbert Arenas become, in the words of Bill Simmons, the next Chris Webber?

Is Ron Artest the Rockets' savior? 

Are the Celtics set to repeat? 

Is San Antonio too old?

Can the Lakers find the right chemistry?

Will fantasy basketball ruin basketball commentary?

This last question is arguably the most important one. Last week, Simmons, my favorite basketball columnist, decided to pen an entire column about fantasy hoops. True, he followed it up this week with a legitimate (if more half-hearted than usual) NBA preview, but what gives? It's bad enough that the sports world has decided to devote so much of its energy to absurd statistical formulas, but now the sports media feels inclined to expend precious space on the subject. And here's another thing: In Simmons' rankings, Josh Smith comes in at #8, Corey Maggette comes in at #22, and Kevin Garnett places 27th. My simple question is as follows: Does it ever occur to you, fantasists, that a scoing system wherein Smith and Maggette are more valuable than Garnett is completely ridiculous? I have played fantasy basketball myself, but it was always with a scoring system that actually valued, you know, talent. And yet that now seems to be the exception, not the rule. 

For what it's worth, expect the Lakers and Rockets to play for the Western Conference championship, and for the winner to face off against the Cleveland-Boston victor.

Finally, here is TNR chum Charles Barkley yesterday:

Brown: So are you going to run for governor?

Barkley: I plan on it in 2014.

Brown: You are serious.

Barkley: I am, I can't screw up Alabama.

Brown: There is no place to go but up in your view?

Barkley: We are number 48 in everything and Arkansas and Mississippi aren't going anywhere.

--Isaac Chotiner