Basketball season is finally upon us. No more projecting, no more guessing. Now we all just get to kick back and see what happens. Last year in the NBA was truly remarkable. Many teams surprised fans by making it to the playoffs, or even becoming top seeds in their conferences, like the Golden State Warriors and Atlanta Hawks. Other teams disappointed, like the New York Knicks who got off to a horrible start to the Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher era. But things change over the offseason. Key players left and joined new teams to form dynamic duos or trios. Other players were left behind in the dust. It’s all settling up to be another great year in the NBA. Here are some of the major story lines to follow this NBA season.
- Will anyone unseat the King? LeBron James, as I have said numerous times already in this blog, is the best basketball player on the planet. There’s no competition. He’s been the best player in the league since 2006. Although he didn’t win the MVP last year, there’s no questioning his greatness and his dominance. He has shown no signs of slowing down, even though he didn’t play in the preseason. There’s a cluster of players behind him that might be able to catch him soon, but this season is not that season. Anthony Davis might be the closest to catching him, as he is a walking mismatch. He can shoot midrange, post up, face up and is a terror on defense. The second place spot was previously held by Kevin Durant, who was injured for much of last season, but we’ll get to that later. LeBron will get a lot of hate because he can’t win in the playoffs, but it’s tough to win with no other scoring options to help shoulder the load. I don’t think he will allow the Cavaliers to lose the NBA Finals again this year.
- Which teams will step forward as contenders? Last year, there were a few surprises in the NBA. The Milwaukee Bucks went from the number two pick, to a number six seed in the Eastern Conference. The Boston Celtics finished strong to grab a seven seed. The Atlanta Hawks and Golden State Warriors surpassed all expectations and grabbed the number one seeds in their respective conferences. Some breakout teams this year could be the Utah Jazz and Orlando Magic. Both of these teams are very young but also very talented. They play great defense and are wicked athletic. The Magic are led by Nikola Vucevic, Victor Oladipo and Tobias Harris. The Jazz are led by budding star Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert. Gobert single handedly turned the Utah season around after he promoted to a starting role with the trade of Enes Kanter. If each of these young players can take steps forward, these teams could be new playoff teams this season.
- Which teams will take a step back? In contrast to the question above, some teams will undoubtedly take steps back this season. The first team that comes to mind is the Portland Trailblazers. They lost basically every key part of their team last year besides Damian Lillard, who is a great player but can’t carry that team for all 82 games. Another team that comes to mind is the Brooklyn Nets. They snuck in as an eight seed in the East but lost Deron Williams over the offseason. He may not be the player he once was, but he was still the teams starting point guard and showed signs of previous greatness. With the losses that these teams are faced with after tough off seasons, it’s tough to imagine them as contenders this season.
- Will it be the end of the run for some of the all-time greats? There’s a quartet of players who are shells of their former selves. These players are Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki. These four are all first ballot Hall of Famers and could have retired five years ago and still been inshrined. There have been rumblings from Bryant, Garnett and Duncan that this could be there last year, but not much from Nowitzki. It’s tough to see Garnett and Bryant retiring this year regardless of reports because both of them have too much desire to play the game, which is very admirable. Tim Duncan has seemingly been in his last year for the last four years. But he may have more incentive than ever to retire at the end of this year. There’s nothing else for him to accomplish in the league and the Spurs seem to have a suitable replacement in LaMarcus Aldridge, who is already a star in his own right. Nowitzki is the least likely to retire but if he doesn’t like the way the Mavericks are going, he could easily pull the plug on his career. All four of these players are legends in their own right, but they are reaching the end of the road.
- Can key players return from injury? Last year the NBA was decimated with injuries to great players. Most notably Kevin Durant and Paul George. Durant’s season was littered with injuries throughout the campaign. His foot was giving him trouble when he played and during the season it was revealed he had a Jones Fracture in his foot. He would miss the rest of the season, to his teams dismay. But to fans pleasure, they saw Russell Westbrook have the greatest month any NBA player has had this century, accounting for 11 triple doubles on the year, including four in a row and six in eight games. A truly remarkable month of March is was for Westbrook. Prior to the season however, Paul George suffered a gruesome injury while playing an exhibition game for the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. He suffered a compound fracture in both of the bones in his lower right leg. The video footage is too disgusting to provide a link for, so look it up yourself, if you dare. George miraculously returned to the lineup in April but did not play many minutes. With a full offseason to heal, both of these stars should be ready for the season.
The NBA season adds to a already busy sports world in October. With the World Series, NFL and NHL already underway, the beginning of the season may be overshadowed. But make no mistake about it, the NBA will provide crazy plays and surprises this season, much as it did last year.