It’s only been five months since Kawhi Leonard led the Toronto Raptors to NBA Finals glory over the Golden State Warriors. In that five months, the NBA’s landscape has drastically shifted, making some teams serious contenders and leaving others wondering where the glory days went. As exciting as the NBA can be on the court, it’s the off-court moving and shaking that has captured audiences, giving some new hope for the upcoming season, and others a sense of looming dread of the arduous 82-game season.
Kawhi Leonard, the Board Man mentioned above, gave Toronto it’s first ever NBA championship last season, and more importantly for the man himself, solidified his name amongst the superstars of the league. To borrow a phrase LeBron James somewhat coined when he left Cleveland for the Miami Heat, Kawhi took his talents to LA. Not to the Lakers, however, to the Steve Ballmer-owned Los Angeles Clippers. Along with fellow superstar Paul George, who left Oklahoma City for a slightly more bustling burg, Kawhi is tasked with making the Clippers much more than “the other team in LA.”
Los Angeles has always been a basketball hub. The Lakers have largely carried the city to this title, and look to reclaim their past glory this season. The LeBron James era of Lakers basketball is upon us, and after a shaky inaugural campaign, the team has built a legitimate roster around this millennium’s greatest star, highlighted by the addition of big man Anthony Davis. Davis jettisoned out of a middling team at best in New Orleans for the bright lights of Hollywood, and joins LeBron in a quest to bring the Larry O’Brien trophy (what you get for winning the NBA Finals) back to its rightful owners, the sixteen-time champion Lakers.
You can’t talk titles without talking about Boston Celtics basketball. Point guard and Flat-earther Kyrie Irving is gone, in his place is Kemba Walker. Walker has not publicly spoken about the shape of our earth at the time of this writing, but he did joke with media about the Flat Earth on the day of his contract announcement. Walker took precipitously less money to play in Boston, and even dialed up Turkish big Enes Kanter to join the Celtics with him. The Celtics might not be a title favorite, but Gordon Hayward now has fellow stars, and Boston has a team to make serious noise in the Eastern Conference.
Staying in the category of “teams that aren’t in title contention that are trying to make noise,” the Miami Heat added the roving superstar Jimmy Butler to their squad. Butler spent his first six years in the league in Chicago, and was traded to Minnesota in June 2017 for Zach Lavine, Kris Dunn, and also the rights to the 7th pick in the 2017 draft. That draft pick turned into the current face of the rebuilding Bulls, Lauri Markkanen. Butler spent a year in Minneapolis before demanding a move away, where he found a home last season in Philadelphia, and gave 76ers fans hope of “The Process” finally resulting in an NBA title.
Butler joins the Heat who are looking to move the ball with more tempo and play a different game than they’ve been known for since the departure of LeBron James a half-decade ago. Butler is stepping into a Dwyane Wade sized hole in the Heat’s starting lineup, after the legendary shooting guard’s retirement after last season. Gone from the Heat is star center Hassan Whiteside, who was phased out of Miami’s plans in favor of the younger, quicker, and better defender Bam Adebayo.
Hassan Whiteside’s new home is Portland, a team that made a surprise run to the Western Conference Finals in last season’s playoffs. The team adds an inside threat in Whiteside, who’s a force offensively, averaging a double-double in points and rebounds each time on the floor. CJ McCollum got paid, and four-time All-Star Damian Lillard looks to add another legendary chapter to his Trail Blazers career. Lillard hit one of the biggest shots in recent NBA memory in the 2019 playoffs, sinking a 37-foot game winning three pointer at the buzzer that helped Portland eliminate the Oklahoma City Thunder from the playoffs in just five games.
The NBA team that is undoubtedly worse for wear coming into the ‘19-’20 season is the aforementioned Oklahoma City Thunder. On top of the earlier mentioned departure of Paul George, longtime star point guard Russell Westbrook also decided his time in the Sooner State was over. The Thunder traded Westbrook to Houston for Chris Paul, who is essentially an older, slower version of Westbrook, but are currently listening to offers to trade Paul away as well. The team that often dominated the Western Conference, particularly before the prolific rise of the Golden State Warriors, is now in full-on rebuild mode.
The Warriors reign atop basketball has officially come to an end, and this season will present a challenge to the team that’s walked over the league for much of the past half-decade or so. Gone is Kevin Durant, who joins Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn. Gone is Klay Thompson, who tore his ACL in the NBA Finals. Steph Curry remains, but his shooting prowess has slowly declined over the past few years, and isn’t the automatic three point shot he once was, especially with fewer stars around him. The Warriors will still be good, but will be surpassed by more complete teams.
My true NBA champion dark horse is the Milwaukee Bucks. A complete team that has not one but two sets of brothers on its complete roster. Star player Giannis Antetekounmpo is joined by his brother, Thanasis, who looks to help off the bench. The nearly ubiquitous Lopez brothers, Brook and Robin, are reunited in Milwaukee, and give the team an inside threat to keep teams off balance. Giannis, the more reputable Antetekounmpo, won the NBA MVP last season, and “the Greek Freak” is somehow only getting better and better. With a deeper bench at his disposal, Giannis and the Bucks are as prepared as any to make a deep run for the 2020 NBA Finals.
Now that the tornado of the NBA offseason has settled, the debris and rubble cleared, basketball can finally begin. Lost in the off-court drama of the NBA is that on the court, it’s one of the most engaging products the sports world has to offer. No (mostly) American sport has stars, faces, villains, or enemies quite like the NBA. The upcoming season will add another chapter to the somewhat young league’s history, and looks to make some new stars, faces, and villains for our entertainment.