The NBA is back!!! The pre-season games have just started, following the shortest ever off-season. And once again, fans are getting all excited to see their favorite stars as they get ready to do battle. We have new alignment of stars, we have new line-ups, we have different storylines and predictions of how this season will evolve. And topping the list of storylines that beg to be answered this year, we have:
1. Will the Lakers, with arguably the biggest upgrade for the off-season, win the title for the second time? The defending champions Los Angeles Lakers, proud owners of their 17th crown, were the busiest franchise during the off-season. Parting ways with Dwight Howard, Javale McGee, Demarcus Cousins, Danny Green, Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo; they took in Marc Gasol, Montrezl Harrell, Dennis Schroder, and Wesley Matthews. this team is now younger, faster and carries a far more lethal scoring sock. This exchange is a significant upgrade, making the Lakers head and shoulders above the rest. Certainly, they have established themselves as the top favorite for next year’s crown.
2. Coming off that disastrous 3-1 meltdown against the Nuggets, will the Clippers’ chemistry issues be finally solved? The Clippers were considered last year as the team to beat in terms of talent. They unravelled in the Bubble, with team chemistry identified as the main culprit in the team’s undoing. Ty Lue took over the coaching reins, and has quietly done some house-cleaning, bundling out Montrezl, Jamychal Green and Landry Shamet. His most important task right now is to see to it that everyone knows the hierarchy in the player roster. It is Kawhi Leonard’s and Paul George’s team, and everyone must follow their lead.
3. With freshman coach Steve Nash on deck, will the Kevin Durant – Kyrie Irving united front make the Nets a serious contender? The scenario in Brooklyn could be different from the Warriors where Steph Curry embraced the arrival of Kevin and gave him top-star billing. The K-K marriage had been one of the most-awaited ones last year, but the Kevin’s injury had derailed the duo’s entry into the fray. While on paper, Kevin and Kyrie seem to be focused on the goal of winning the championship together, the question of who gets top billing could creep in as the season progresses. Coach Steve has the unenviable task of doing a balancing act here, not just between the 2 stars, but with a roster filled with emerging stars right behind them.
4. With a healthy Steph Curry and the top-rookie pick James Wiseman in the starting five, will the Warriors mount a serious challenge minus Klay Thompson? With Klay, they would have been a top challenger to the Lakers. Without him, they fall back 4-5 rungs down a fiercely-competitive Western Division. Will the untested Wiseman come out as the Warriors’ wise choice for that needed big guy in the middle?
5. Which marriage will score a better result: the James Harden-John Wall duo in Houston, or the Russell Westbrook – Bradley Beal twinning in Washington? The Harden – Westbrook experiment last season turned out to be a disaster. Both top-caliber former MVPs needed the ball in their hands most of the time. That said, I think that the Westbrook – Beal duo will come out better considering that Russell is a point guard and Bradley a shooting guard. As for James and John, both are ball-hungry personalities. Similar to last year’s Harden-Westbrook tandem, having both James and John on the floor will only lessen the usage of one or the other.
6. Will Harden stay with the Rockets? Which team will he blend in best? James Harden has announced he wants out of Houston. Houston has a problem however. Going to Brooklyn, Kyrie is the resident PG there. In Philadelphia, there’s Ben. If James stays with the Rockets, there’s John also contending for the PG post. Which team will he annoint as his next landing spot? Which team would be best for him? Look for a team that needs to upgrade their PG spot.
7. Will the Bubble Games leader Phoenix Suns go places with the addition of Chris Paul and Jae Crowder? The Suns were the big surprise in the Bubble. With Chris Paul now directing, Devin Booker won’t have difficulties creating his own shooting opportunities. DeAndre Ayton will also mature faster at the low post, with Chris’ passing wizardry. Jae Crowder’s finals experience last year with the Heat will also provide championship grit for this relatively young team. There’s no way for this team to go but up.
8. Bucks upgrade: Will Jrue Holiday’s signing be enough to finally nail the eastern crown, and re-sign Giannis on the process? Jrue will be a significant upgrade on both ends of the court. If the team shows significant improvement, plus they are able to sign another quality wingman, this team could finally win the Eastern crown and possibly the Finals. Expect the management to continue hunting for that elusive wing as the season progresses.
9. What does the Denver Nuggets do for an encore this year? Jamal Murray and Nicola Jokic are now bonafide stars. However, a key loss was Jerami Grant, a 2-way player ready to bust into stardom. But this team’s potential is huge. If Michael Porter Jr continues to develop his defensive game, and Bol Bol matures, expect this team to be right up there with the West’s frontliners. This team will be fun to watch this year.
10. Which team will challenge without major changes in their rosters? Some teams decided not to tinker much with their line-ups. For the losing Finalist Miami Heat, the Boston Celtics, the Philadelphia Sixers and the Dallas Mavericks, they did not feel the sense of urgency to retool their line-ups. Instead, they are banking on familiarity and in-house player development to pull them through. Can they move up the ladder of success?
There you have it, folks. These are just some of the more compelling stories that hope to find answers during this shortened pre-season period. As the games unfold, watch out for more notable player movements and reports on roster management. With competition levelling up, more and more games are now in scrutiny and decided on by the slightest, minutest quirk; this invisible, intangible friend or foe named team chemistry. Enjoy!!!
And despite these trying times, have a Merry Christmas, everyone!
Cover photo courtesy of ClutchPoints. Other pictures courtesy of Sports Illustrated, Sporting Free.