The NBA 2022-23 regular season commences on Tuesday, October 18, after a tumultuous off-season that saw stars leaving for new teams, stars staying, stars attempting to leave, stars collaborating in new settings, and stars returning from injuries. Undoubtedly, it was an exciting, unpredictable off-season, with new line-ups and alliances forming. And fans across the globe can’t wait to see how the latest NBA edition fares after the Golden State Warriors’ ‘Return of the Jedi’ episode last season.
Firstly, we had the 2022 NBA draft which promises to bring in new faces in an already highly-competitive setting. Then, we witnessed the re-signing of such stars as Lebron James (who received a contract for 2 years, $97.1M), James Harden (who took a pay cut to accommodate some veteran players to beef up the 76ers bench), reigning MVP Nikola Jokic (who got a supermax extension), Devin Booker, Karl Anthony Towns, Damian Lillard, Ja Morant, Zion Williamson and many more. Notable names to switch teams included Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz, a team that opted to rebuild after years of failing to reach the 3rd round of the playoffs. Eagerly awaited as they report back from the injured list are Kawhi Leonard, Damian Lillard, Jamal Murray, Ben Simmons, Zion Williamson and John Wall.
But the bigger stories were with those superstars whose rumored transfer to other teams did not push through. Topping the list of failed transfers were that of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving of the New Jersey Nets, and Russell Westbrook of the LA Lakers. How the Nets and the Lakers – last year’s heavy favorites to reach the Finals – deal with this side issue will be a hot topic.
Here are our top storylines as we near the starting gate.
Are the Golden State Warriors indestructible? While the team lost Gary Payton and Otto Porter Jr, 2 of the most dependable bench players in their championship run last season, this edition of the Warriors is still on top of the pre-season rankings. The Warriors won the crown last year partly because of a super-loaded bench; and this year, they did not seem to lose a step with the addition of Donte DiVincenzo, a noted winner in college (with Villanova in 2016, 2018) as well as in the NBA (with the Bucks in 2021), and the veteran JaMychal Green. They will also benefit from the return of top center, James Wiseman, from the injured list. Hence, they remain as dangerous and as loaded as loaded can be. How then will the new rotation of players look like? For coach Steve Kerr and his staff, this is a good problem to have. But then there’s the recent altercation where Draymond Green sucker-punched the much-smaller upcoming star, Jordan Poole. Will this create some negative vibes to hinder team cohesion? How will this affect the salary cap issue that management must address this year, with Poole, Green, and Andrew Wiggins having expiring contracts? It will be recalled that Draymond had a similar spat with Kevin Durant some years back, eventually leading to KD’s decision to leave the Warriors.
Will last year’s super-teams Los Angeles Lakers and New Jersey Nets finally max their full potential? Last year, all eyes were on the Lakers and the Nets with their super-souped up rosters. With the Lakers, the triple threat of Lebron, Westbrook and Anthony Davis was supposed to bring the team another jewel. Injuries shot them down. Westbrook became the favorite punching bag. But if the 3 are healthy, who knows where this could lead to? Will the 3 veterans, now all above 30, be able to stay healthy and become cohesive? How will Russ and the rest of the team deal with the boisterous Laker fans who want him out? What about Russ’ relationship with newly-acquired Pat Beverley? Arch-enemies for the longest time, they must now share the same locker room. As for the Nets, injuries and Irving’s COVID injection issues led to James Harden’s exasperation and decision to leave. The Nets’ situation looks more fragile, with KD and Kyrie having announced their desire to leave earlier. Will they be committed to play? Will Ben Simmons, another fantastic player if mentally healthy, be ready to return to the hardcourt? How will the relationship between coach Steve Nash and the KD/Kyrie disgruntled duo affect the team?
Will the Boston Celtics and the Phoenix Suns survive their off-court distractions to pose a serious challenge for the crown? 2022 losing finalist Boston Celtics remain a threat with the addition of Malcolm Brogdon and Danilo Gallinari without losing anyone in their basic rotation. However, the 1-year suspension handed down to their sensational first-year coach, Ime Udoka – for “violations of team policies” regarding having intimate relations with a subordinate – could have a big effect on the mindsets of the players. Same is true for losing 2021 finalist Phoenix Suns, whose owner, Robert Sarver, was suspended for one year for his inappropriate workplace conduct. The Suns travelled recently to Australia where they were stunned by the Adelaide 36ers 134-124, the very first time a NBA team lost a pre-season game to a non-NBA team since the Oklahoma Thunder lost to Real Madrid in 2016. However, unlike the Thunder which were a rebuilding team in 2016, the Suns are billed as a strong, contending team, having been a losing finalist in 2021.
Will Kawhi Leonard and Paul George finally bring the Clippers a crown this year? Among the other team hopefuls, it looks like the Clippers have the strongest potential to challenge for the crown. With Kawhi and Paul, they have a pair of 2-way superstars. They brought in another superstar in John Wall. Then there’s Reggie Jackson, Marcus Morris Sr, Nic Batum, Robert Covington, Ivica Zubac, Norman Powell, Luke Kenard; all capable of taking on starting roles in other teams. With this already stacked supporting cast, they have arguably the deepest bench which can play big or small, in or out, fast or slow. Question is: will having a cast of brilliant cage characters impact team chemistry? Will this mix of stars and veterans get ample time to bond, and work together for a common goal?
Aside from the Boston Celtics, which other teams in the east are betting favorites to place high in the 2023 playoffs? In the east, the Milwaukee Bucks remain in contention with Kris Middleton coming back healthy. So with the Brooklyn Nets, despite James Harden’s exit. The Philadelhia 76ers showed good vibes with Harden taking a pay-cut to accommodate PJ Tucker and Danuel House Jr, 2 special cogs who played with Harden during their deep playoff runs during their days with the Houston Rockets. Miami Heat may have lost PJ Tucker, but the team remains solid, with former all-star Victor Oladipo slowly integrating into their system. The Minnesota Timberwolves and the Cleveland Cavaliers could provide some surprise with the addition of all-stars Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell respectively. Then there’s the Chicago Bulls and the Atlanta Hawks to round up the playoff spots.
Who will make the magic 8 in the playoffs for the beefed-up Western Conference? Aside from the Warriors, the Clippers and the Suns, competition for playoff spots for the West will be tough. The Memphis Grizzlies and the Dallas Mavericks will be there with their youth teams maturing. There’s the Denver Nuggets with Murray and Michael Porter Jr coming back from injuries, and Kentavious Caldwell Pope providing more firepower. The LA Lakers will contend, provided their Big 3 remain health, and the arrival of Pat Beverley beefs up the defense. Finally, that last spot will be contested by the Minnesota Timberwolves, with new acquisition Rudy Gobert, and the New Orleans Pelicans, with the comebacking Zion Williamson.
There you have it, folks. A quick look as the NBA race gets ready to rock and roll. Let’s get the beer and the popcorn ready. Bring in the banners, the pennants and wear that old fave souvenir shirt. Gentlemen and ladies, the NBA season is about to begin!!!
For a clearer view, just click on the pics. Cover photo courtesy of CNN. Other photos, courtesy of ClutchPoints, NBA Analysis Network, Fadeaway World, DraftKings Nation, Twitter, Bright Side of the Sun, the Wisconsin Sports Heroics, NBC Sports, Heat Nation, SI.com, and YouTube.