Well, it’s official — the best time of the year is coming. The leaves change colors (at least in other states), Thanksgiving and winter break are right around the corner and, of course, a new NBA season is about to begin. If that’s not something to get excited about, I don’t know what is.
Although we will probably get another Warriors title championship this year, that doesn’t mean we’re going to be like Eric Bledsoe at a barbershop and want to leave for greener pastures. There are a lot of interesting possibilities this year, and here are three situations to keep an eye on.
Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors
The last time we saw Kawhi Leonard play, he was a top MVP candidate, someone who looked like he was about to dominate the league offensively while allowing approximately zero points to be scored on him. However, that was a long time ago, and perceptions change. After taking a year off to recover from a mysterious quad injury that forced the Spurs to trade him, he was dealt to the Raptors in exchange for DeMar DeRozan.
All we know about him so far in Toronto is that he is a fun guy who will probably never pass for a normal person. However, his fit with Toronto could be amazing. If he returns to MVP form, a team that was already a great defense with DeRozan, who seems to enjoy when people dribble by him, could end up being the top defense in the league. Pair that with the addition of Danny Green, a 3-and-D specialist who was also acquired in the San Antonio trade, and they could have a great offense built around Kawhi. They still have a fantastic bench unit as well as Kyle Lowry, the NBA version of a bulldog.
They could put out a small ball unit that absolutely terrorizes teams on defense and can force favorable mismatches on offense. This is all assuming that Kawhi returns to pre-injury form, but if he does, a team with the best regular season record in the East last year could be much better.
The Celtics and Chemistry Issues
On paper, the Celtics are one of the best teams, if not the very best, in the East. Last year, missing two All-Stars, they were one Lebron James away from being in the NBA Finals. This year, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward both return, and both are reportedly in good health. The question is how they will be able to manage the demands of individual players. No other team besides the Warriors has as much talent throughout the lineup as the Celtics, and the Warriors are the rare team that can combine talent and unselfishness to make dynastic level talent work out.
The last time we saw the Celtics, Terry Rozier was being very scary, Jayson Tatum was the primary scorer and Jaylen Brown was the second in command on the wing. This year, however, with as many wing scorers as they have combined with the touches Kyrie will have, it will be interesting to see if they can keep all the talent happy enough to stay together. Al Horford will still put together an underrated season built on passing, spacing the floor and rebounding, but how the rest of the lineup will interact with each other remains to be seen. Brad Stevens does have a great coaching record so far, but he’s never had a complete season coaching this talented of a team, and it will be interesting to see how he uses all the pieces he has been given.
LeBron and the Playoffs
The last time LeBron James didn’t make the playoffs was 2005. Just for points of reference, I had just started kindergarten and the first iPhone came out in 2007. We’ve come to just expect LeBron to be in the playoffs, partly because of his transcendent talent and partly because of his residence in the inferior Eastern Conference.
Moving to the Lakers has made the inevitability of seeing LeBron in the playoffs thrown into question. LeBron’s signing of a four-year deal signaled that he thought championship aspirations were not feasible this year, but the playoffs are a different story. In order to get into the playoffs, we can look at the bottom of the Western Conference and go from there. The Timberwolves made it last year, but with all the Jimmy Butler drama, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if they take a fall in the wins column this year. That really leaves the Nuggets and the Spurs for the Lakers to overcome in order to clinch a playoff berth.
Even though the Nuggets are good and only getting better with a young core centered around savant Nikola Jokic, and even though the Spurs have not missed the playoffs since before the turn of the century, it still feels like something has to give. If I had to take a guess, the Nuggets are probably going to be moved down a spot. The Spurs got the seventh seed last year with Kawhi not playing, which makes the addition of DeMar DeRozan a huge improvement. Even with the Lakers’ young core and a veteran group that feels like it would be more at home in a comedy than on a basketball court, expect to see LeBron in the playoffs this year.
A version of this story appeared on pg. 9 of the Oct. 19 edition of the Daily Nexus.