The summer soap opera that is the NBA offseason was drama-filled as always with a new league-shifting story dominating the blogosphere week after week. Here’s just some of the major headlines from the past four months: AD joins LeBron and the Lakers; Kawhi & PG to the Clips; KD & Kyrie team-up in Brooklyn; Zion goes No. 1, then tears his meniscus; Lakers hire two head coaches; Klay may likely miss the entire season; Kemba Walker to Boston; Jimmy B to Miami; Ben Simmons hits a three-pointer; Russ & Harden reunite in Houston; Team USA went medal-less; and the Knicks are still bad.
There’s so much to look forward to this season, especially when you consider that for the first time in five years we have no idea who’s going to win it all — it’s a wide open race. And so, for the casual fans, and for us fanatics to further debate in the comments section, we listed out 10 of the most exciting stories entering the 2019-2020 NBA season.
The King of Los Angeles
The Los Angeles Lakers versus the Los Angeles Clippers, LeBron and AD versus Kawhi and PG; who will come out as the king of LA? Hopes are high for both teams, despite being the first season these two dynamic duos will play with one another. LeBron looked as spritely as ever this preseason and the high pick-and-roll between him and Davis is already looking rather unstoppable. The Clippers however will likely miss George for the first few weeks due to a lingering shoulder injury from last year, but still have stars like Patrick Beverly and Lou Williams to help — don’t forget, Pat and Lou took the Clips to the playoffs last year. And if PG returns to from, mirroring the career-best season he had with OKC last year, then LAC and its defense is going to be very tough to beat.
There are also a number of underlying questions that must be addressed, including: will AD remain healthy all season?; will LeBron and Kawhi be on “load management” schedules?; when will PG be back to 100%?; who will emerge as the third star on the Lakers?; how will having two head coaches work for the Lakers? and more.
So the question remains, the explosive play of the new Showtime Lakers versus the hands-everywhere defense of the Clippers, who will be crowned the King of LA?
The GSW Dynasty Ends, but Curry Goes Off
For the first time since 2014, the Golden State Warriors are not expected to make the finals this season. Kevin Durant has moved to Brooklyn, in exchange for D’Angelo Russell, really, and Klay is not expected to return until April, if at all, as he recovers from a torn ACL. There’s a betting chance that they’ll make the playoffs however, but they’ll likely be at the bottom of the pack. They lack a sound front court, other than Draymond, who will be playing with a chip on his shoulder; they don’t have any reliable perimeter defenders to lock down their opponent’s best, so expect some big individual numbers against GSW this season; and their bench is practically nonexistent. But with these troubles will come some fun: Curry is about to go off.
Steph is going to have the ball in his hands more than ever this season, and as always, he’ll have the green light to shoot, anywhere. In just four preseason games, Curry averaged 27 points on 17 shot attempts in 24 minutes — or 39 points and 25 shots per 36 minutes. Curry is going to get a TON of shots up this year, and being one of the most accurate shooters of all-time, we’re guessing a lot of them will find their way to the bottom of the net. Curry hasn’t won the scoring title since 2015-16’s 30.1 average, the year GSW won 73, so this year might be the year he takes the crown back from Harden, who’s won it the past two years.
What’s more is that Curry’s new backcourt mate, Russell, is versatile and a surprisingly good complement — he can handle the ball, he can create his own shot, he loves to pass, and he can play off the ball and be a target for Steph.
Curry is healthy and ready to ball. He’s got an opportunity to re-prove just how good he is with this team, and in a brand new arena no less.
Batman & Superman, Harden & Russ
Speaking of James Harden, the reunion between him and his former Oklahoma City Thunder teammate Russell Westbrook has been one of the most talked about stories all summer. Between the two of them, they’ve been the scoring and assist champs each of the last three seasons, and now they’ll share the same ball.
And that’s where the uncertainty comes in; how are these two ball-dominate players going to share the rock when they’re sharing the floor? And considering the lack of depth the Rockets have, they’ll be sharing the floor quite often. The better question is, what happens in the fourth quarter of a tight game, or a road playoff game at the Staples Center? Who will take over then?
Furthermore, how will Russ fit into D’Antoni’s style of play, where players pass on open mid-range shots to move the ball around and find an open three? The Rockets attempted a staggering 59% of their shots from three this preseason, and while they probably won’t maintain that shot distribution, it should at least top last season’s 52%. Russ has never been a good, let alone a great perimeter shooter, having shot below 30% from three four of the last five seasons.
One thing’s for sure with this squad however, PJ Tucker will out-fit Harden and Russ just about every game.
Is the Process Complete?
The 76ers are coming off back-to-back 50+ win seasons, however both ended in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. Joel Emiid is coming off an MVP-caliber year where he averaged 28, 14, 4 and 2; Butler flew south for Miami; veteran Al Hartford signed to give them depth and wisdom; and Ben Simmons is finding confidence in his jump shot — he made his first NBA three-pointer during the preseason…his first. Things are looking up-and-up for the ‘6ers, but will it be enough to take them to the Conference Finals and past Giannis and the Bucks? If not now, when?
Vince Carter’s Retirement Tour
Last year Dwyane Wade traveled around the league exchanging jerseys for his final NBA season, and rightfully so, he’s arguably one of the five best shooting guards of all time. This year, Vince Carter leads the retirement class, as the 42-year-old highlight reel will play his 22nd and final NBA season. It’s been some time since we’ve seen Vinsanity posterizing seven-footers, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find any adult basketball fan that can’t name their five favorite VC dunks: be it the 360-degree windmill during 2000’s Slam Dunk Contest, throwing it off the backboard in the 2005 All-Star Game, bodying up to Alonzo in 2005, or the world-famous dunk heard ‘round the world during the 2000 Olympics; there’s just so many to name.
We’re going to miss you, Vince.
Nike’s Throwback Jerseys
Nike and the NBA will be kicking off their third season together in this new contractual partnership, and they’ll be doing so with a bevy of jersey updates and throwbacks that many of us have been waiting to see back on the hardwood. The Nets will be sporting Eric Haze-designed tops as well as bring back their Coogi-inspired kits; the 76ers will don a script-style jersey that was worn during the early ‘70s; the Raptors will revive their lovable inaugural dinosaur jersey; the Bulls are bringing back the iconic black pinstripes; the Cavs will wear that garish, zig-zag black-and-blue uniform from the ‘90s; the Blazers are reimagining the hallmark top-to-bottom logo from their 76-77 championship run; the Jazz are retroing the “purple mountain” top Stockton and Malone wore during the ‘90s; and the Clippers will don white-and-black jerseys with very-LA old english-style lettering.
We also expect Nike and the NBA to continue your collaborative footwear line, picking up from last year’s Nike SB collection. So stay tuned.
The New Nets Become New York’s Team
The Brooklyn Nets made the playoffs last year for the first time since 2015, achieving their first winning season since 2014. Despite losing in the first round to the 76ers, hopes were high for the franchise as they entered the off-season. Then things took a hurricane spin with their young and loveable star D’Angelo Russell departing, but then shortly after, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant stepped in to take the helm of the black-and-white ship.
Durant will likely miss the entire season, however the playoffs are still very much the goal here. Kyrie is joined by star-in-the-making Caris LeVert, who should rise to a 15-20ppg scorer in KD’s absence. The Nets also have the clutch Spencer Dinwiddie, the defensive wall that is David Nwaba, and the shooting of Joe Harris. And with a recharged and refocused Kyrie, even without Durant, this team will be very fun to watch.
Who or What Will Zion Become?
Well, if we had published this a week ago, we’d have an entirely different, more hopeful viewpoint here. Zion Williamson, after a dominating preseason performance where he averaged 23 points on 71% shooting in 27 minutes, underwent arthroscopic surgery on a torn meniscus in his right knee, and is now expected to miss 6-to-8 weeks, likely more. One of the most anticipated pro sport debuts in recent memory will be delayed.
On the low end, Zion’s chance of winning Rookie of the Year drastically diminishes with missing 20+ games in the season, as does the chance of a Pelicans playoff run — although, without Zion, it’ll give time for Lonzo, Ingram, Holiday and Okafor to build some chemistry. On the high end, this puts into question, yet again, what we’ve all wondered: can Zion remain healthy? The 19-year-old phenom is one hell of an athlete, it could be legendary, but at 6’7”, 285, can his body handle everything that’s he’s capable of doing? Some think he just needs to lose weight, others think it’s also his posture and build, and some want him to change his style of play entirely; maybe it’s all three.
Given that he’ll have a good month or two, maybe even three, to think about it, we’re going to remain optimistic that he’ll return lighter and more aware of his movement. Positive thoughts, guys, let’s not Markelle him.
The Trading Block
Paul will be cashing in the remaining three years on the four-year, $160M USD contract he signed with the Rockets last year, however he’ll be doing so with the Thunder, who are bound to land at the bottom of the Western Conference. CP has yet to win that evasion title, and we’re sure he’s dying inside to win one, but few teams are able to take on his monstrosity of a contract. The Heat could, should they get rid of Dragic, who we already listed on the block, and honestly, Paul and Butler complement each other much better.
Kevin Love played just 22 games last season after missing time to a foot injury, however the 31-year-old stretch-power forward averaged 17 points and 9 rebounds on a meek Cavaliers squad. Love is on the first year of his four-year, $120M USD contract, one a rebuilding Cavs franchise would love to offload. He will need to prove he can still play at an elite level though, so expect him to come out guns blazing to start the season.
35-year-old, 3x NBA Champion Andre Iguodala is on a rebuilding Memphis Grizzlies team, and while he can most certainly be a great mentor for the No. 2 overall draft pick Ja Morant, he’ll likely be traded as soon as someone makes a compelling offer. Serge Ibaka on the other hand, may not be on the trading block at this moment — Raptors President Masai Ujiri spent the summer insisting that he, along with Kyle Lowry, and Marc Gasol are now — but he may be wrestled away with the right offer. The 30-year-old had a stellar year last season for the champions, averaging 15 and 8, but it was 25-year-old Pascal Siakam that stepped up and showed he’s the future of the franchise. Serge could be phased out fast, and thus find himself on the block as the season goes on.
Is Giannis the Best Player in the World?
Giannis Antetokounmpo accomplished quite a bit last year. The 24-year-old won his first MVP award, averaging 28 points, 13 rebounds and 6 assists; he took the Milwaukee Bucks to their first Eastern Conference Finals since Rey Allen did it in 2001; and he dropped his first signature Nike basketball sneaker, the Freak 1. With LeBron in the final act of his career, Giannis is looking more and more like the best player in the world, and the future face of the sport.
But, like the questions that swirled around LeBron early in his career, can Giannis win, can he lead a team to the NBA Finals and win?
The NBA season tips off October 22 with the Lakers and Clippers going head-to-head at 10:30 p.m. EST