It seems like just yesterday we watched the Golden State Warriors deliver yet another NBA championship as a precursor to one of the wildest NBA offseasons in recent memory.
Chess pieces moved and new stars aligned as teams and individual players alike made moves to put themselves in the best position to continue to compete.
The King has gone West. DeMarcus Cousins will be playing for a new contract with the defending champs. The full strength Celtics have arrived. What will the process in Philadelphia be like this year?
There will be a ton of storylines to follow this year and it will be a joy to see how each of them plays out. What follows are five discussions I will be monitoring during the 2018-2019 NBA season.
1. “Last Ride Players” Closing Championship Window
The Houston Rockets are the first team that jumps out at me in terms of being on borrowed time. Chris Paul got the contract he wanted, but at the expense of some of the Rockets’ future longevity. Paul is a future Hall of Famer and still one of the top point guards in the league today. However, it clearly wasn’t ideal for Houston to give a 33-year-old injury prone guard a four-year, $160 million extension.
"He's in a position where he can definitely play his game."
Amar'e Stoudemire thinks Carmelo Anthony has a chance to do something special in Houston. https://t.co/kXlgQQmD9I
— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) September 13, 2018
The Rockets were fortunate enough to be able to retain Clint Capela to maintain an identity in the middle. Hopefully, Carmelo Anthony brings the right attitude to Houston so that they can maximize James Harden’s prime while they have enough pieces throughout their roster to make a run.
Being as deep as they are in the NBA is a luxury and very temporary. If these next two years don’t work out for Paul and Anthony specifically, they may be looking at the end of their championship hopes as meaningful contributors to a team.
This same thinking applies to role guys who suddenly have found themselves in position to play basketball deep into the playoffs.
Rajon Rondo already has a championship, but the other Lakers newcomers, Michael Beasley and Lance Stephenson each have shown the ability to be explosive but a mixture of inconsistency and playing on rosters that weren’t championship ready have prevented each from seeing postseason success.
LeBron makes everyone better and the Lakers have a deep enough (and young enough) roster to be a serious contender for the next few seasons. Stephenson and Beasley can each help you win games, and they will need to take advantage while the opportunity is here.
2. The Wild Wild East
LeBron James has had the Eastern Conference under siege since arriving in the NBA. The man has been in the last EIGHT Eastern Conference Finals. This move places 11 of the 15 All-NBA recipients in the Western Conference.
However, just because more of the talent is out West does not mean the East doesn’t matter. The Boston Celtics at full strength can play with anyone and the Toronto Raptors are also in the neighborhood.
As for the rest of the East, the Philadelphia 76ers, Washington Wizards, Indiana Pacers, and Milwaukee Bucks will be throwing haymakers at each other all season as the entire East will be some strange version of a WWE Royal Rumble now that the reign of LeBron has ended.
The best thing about the East is that outside of the Wizards all of the elite teams have incredible youth so this is a battle that barring any drastic trades will rage on for quite some time.
There are also teams like the Heat, Knicks, and Nets (picks finally coming back after the worst trade in NBA history) who are a star or two away from being right in the mix. The natural balance of the basketball universe will bring more stars back over to the East in the coming years (Anthony Davis? Jimmy Butler?) but until then there is still plenty to monitor.
3. LeBron James vs. Longevity
Most of us know to expect the Los Angeles Lakers to be immediately competitive again in the wake of LeBron James’s arrival. There will be a ridiculous amount of attention paid to Lakers games and the Western Conference race in general. There are so many good teams in the West that have gotten better that it may be a more interesting sight to see which one of them actually misses the playoffs.
In the thick of all of this will be LeBron James in his 16th NBA season. He should have won the MVP last year and 14 more times before that but the whole point here is his production and dominance so deep into his career.
Mav Carter says LeBron James spends ~$1,500,000 per year on his body. He uses cryotherapy, hyperbaric chambers, NormaTec leg boots, etc. He also has personal chefs, trainers, etc. He has a strict routine and diet. He invested in his body, so he can still dominate at 33 years old.
— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) March 24, 2018
LeBron takes full advantage of all that his resources and modern medicine can offer in 2018 in order to maintain the highest level of fitness possible. This obsession over preparation is something that we see from icons from both in and outside of sports.
It will be interesting to see how LeBron adjusts his game as his physical skills continue to diminish. If he continues to average at least 25 points per game going forward, he would break the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s scoring record in four and a half seasons at age 37. Watching the King continue to defy time will be a joy to watch.
4. Who’s Leaving?
It has been a wild NBA summer that has seen a lot of movement with big names. Next summer surely will not disappoint either. Anthony Davis has parted ways with his agent to enter into a relationship with Rich Paul, who also represents LeBron James. Naturally, the gossip in the hallways has started with Paul Pierce leading the charge on a recent episode of “The Jump.”
“If things don’t go well in New Orleans this year and they’re hovering around .500 or not looking like a playoff team, Boston’s going to make a run at him or the Lakers,” Pierce said. … “I guarantee you that. He will not be in New Orleans by the end of the year. … If they’re not playing well, he will not make it to All-Star Weekend.”
Davis, who is widely considered to be a cornerstone franchise level player, is one of the few players in the league where his movements can affect the NBA landscape.
There are also rumors of Kyrie Irving and Jimmy Butler having eyes on reuniting with the Knicks. Where does Demarcus Cousins go after this season is over? Speaking of the Warriors, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant are also in contract years, so we can see massive shifts in the destiny of these players and their teams as the season wears on.
The Washington Wizards and Portland Trail Blazers have been on the “close but no cigar” program when it has come to any postseason success, and one has to wonder how long they will keep their cores intact while they have very desirable trade assets that are in their prime. We will see how the chess pieces fall.
5. Last Year’s Rookies
Last season was the most fascinating season for rookies in my time watching the NBA.
Lonzo Ball and the Big Baller Brand empire, Donovan Mitchell coming out of nowhere to go toe-to-toe with Ben Simmons for the Rookie of the Year award, Lauri Markkanen turning heads while playing on a bad Chicago Bulls team, among others.
This season will be a case study on how all these young guys will adjust to year two as professional basketball players. How will Lonzo’s game be affected by playing alongside LeBron James? Does Ben Simmons have what it takes to continue to be productive despite the threat of an effective jump shot?
I haven’t even mentioned Kyle Kuzma, Dennis Smith Jr., Josh Jackson, De’Aaron Fox, and others. Last year’s rookie class was absolutely loaded with talent and avoiding hitting a wall in year two will be key for them and their respective teams.