Every NBA season brings several new points of league-wide intrigue. You probably have your favorite team that you follow no matter what, but there are just some league storylines that you can’t escape from.
This season, there seems to be even more intrigue than normal. Numerous star players switched teams this offseason, creating a very uncertain league landscape that may take a while to sort itself out.
Let’s take a look at seven main topics that will be key talking points of the NBA news cycle in the upcoming basketball season.
Three New Superstars in Los Angeles
Los Angeles basketball fans are undoubtedly pumped about the upcoming season, no matter whether they cheer for the Lakers or Clippers.
The Lakers swung a blockbuster trade, giving up three young prospects and the No. 4 overall draft pick this summer for the best big man in the NBA, Anthony Davis. The Clippers signed reigning Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard in free agency and also acquired Paul George via trade in exchange for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari and a whopping five first-round draft picks.
Both teams’ moves are major gambles to win now, and each team expects to win a championship this year. How will Davis fit with the Lakers, and how will Leonard and George fit with the Clippers?
Does the Greek Freak Have a Long-Term Future in Milwaukee?
The Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo just won his first MVP last season at the age of 24. He has improved by leaps and bounds in each of his six NBA seasons. It seems like there is no limit to his potential as an all-time great.
However, will the Greek forward reach his potential with the Bucks? The Bucks were the best team in the regular season last year, but they lost four straight games to the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals in May to end their season in very disappointing fashion. Milwaukee also couldn’t retain key contributors Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic in the offseason.
Antetokounmpo has the option to sign a five-year, $247 million supermax extension with the Bucks on July 1 next summer, one year before his free agency is opened up to the rest of the league. That contract would be the biggest in NBA history.
We know the Bucks will be pushing hard for that deal. Giannis not only was the first Bucks player to win MVP since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1974, he is the only Bucks player to finish even top 10 in the MVP voting since Sidney Moncrief in 1986. Milwaukee would love to lock in its franchise player long-term.
There is a lot of pressure in Milwaukee this season to show Antetokounmpo that he should stay a member of the Bucks all the way through the 2025-2026 season.
Two New Rule Changes Take Effect
There are two new NBA rules that will take effect for at least the 2019-20 season: the ability to trigger instant replay circumstantially and the coach’s challenge.
NBA officials will have the ability to call on instant replay for certain calls that are tough to determine in real time. Additionally, coaches will have the opportunity to challenge one play per game that can be overturned depending on what the replay shows.
These changes will likely slow the games down a little bit. However, it will be interesting to see whether the other effects of the rules are generally positive for the league.
East All-Star Switcheroo
In general, there were a lot of big-time players who moved teams this offseason. In the East, there were four players, All-Stars in 2018 or 2019, who switched teams within the conference.
Kemba Walker went from the Charlotte Hornets to the Boston Celtics, Kyrie Irving went from the Celtics to the Brooklyn Nets, Al Horford went from the Celtics to the Philadelphia 76ers and Jimmy Butler went from the 76ers to the Miami Heat.
All four of the teams who brought in the aforementioned stars should make the playoffs in the East but they will all need some time for their stars to gel. The squads that can figure out their chemistry quicker than others will definitely have an advantage when it comes to playoff seeding.
Westbrook and Harden Team Up Again
It has been seven seasons since Russell Westbrook and James Harden were teammates on the Oklahoma City Thunder. At that time, Westbrook, was still a budding star and James Harden was the team’s sixth man and averaging just 16.8 points per game. Both guys were clearly behind Kevin Durant in the team’s offensive pecking order.
Now, both guys have had a taste of what it’s like to be the clear No. 1 option on the team. Each guy has won an MVP in the past three seasons with a very ball-dominant style.
When they reunite this fall on the Houston Rockets, both guys will have to make significant sacrifices to their offensive approach for their skills to be maximized. You won’t want to miss Rockets games, especially early on, as we see the team try to figure out the dynamic between its star guards.
Stephen Curry is Unleashed
The Golden State Warriors have averaged 64.4 wins per season since 2014-15 and have won three NBA titles in that span. It is highly doubtful that they are at that level this season, with Kevin Durant injured and then gone to the Brooklyn Nets, Klay Thompson out for most of the season with a torn ACL and Andre Iguodala traded to the Memphis Grizzlies.
What that means is that Curry will finally be unleashed on offense. D’Angelo Russell is the team’s only other big scoring threat until Thompson comes back. That means Curry will be given all sorts of opportunities to score with big volume.
In the past, his big scoring games have mostly been blowout wins for the Warriors, since the team is so good. In his 13 games scoring 45 points or more in the past five seasons, he has never played more than 38 minutes. I think that is going to change this season. He is going to have some huge games where the Warriors need each and every one of the silky jump shots he makes.
Golden State will still be a good team, and probably even a very good team, once Thompson returns from his injury. Curry’s offensive explosions will just be a lot more necessary than they were in the past several seasons.
Who’s the Title Favorite?
The one thing that’s most exciting about the upcoming season is this: we don’t know for sure which team is the best in the league.
The Warriors, with their player losses, are no longer the big powerhouse looming over the rest of the league. The defending champion Toronto Raptors lost their clear best player in Kawhi Leonard. The Bucks, who dominated the regular season last season, lost some key players.
A lot of the projected top teams (Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers, Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz) have multiple new key players to integrate and the fits of their rosters are still somewhat unknown. The Bucks and Warriors are two other teams who could crash the championship party, but they don’t have stacked rosters by any means.
With so many new acquisitions, it definitely will be a season-long process of identifying which team (or teams) are the best in the league.