Already less than a month away, it is time to start the annual tradition of not-so-patiently waiting for the NBA season.
As per the new norm, it has been a wild offseason for the NBA. Somehow, the 2019-20 regular season is already less than a month out, with tipoff taking place October 22nd. Now that your calendar is marked, it is time to start the speculation as to how the season ahead will shake out for each of the 30 NBA teams and their endlessly entertaining casts of characters.
The Basketball Movement already broke down the major offseason moves for you, so we don’t need to go over every detail of which player went to which new team. That said, the player movement is the most interesting piece of the NBA landscape for the upcoming 2019-20 season, so it is woven throughout this preview. We’ll start with the Western Conference and reigning NBA Finals MVP, Kawhi Leonard.
Kawhi was ninth in MVP voting for the regular season, but let the world know he is one of the greatest in the Playoffs. As Toronto feared, they lost him in the offseason, but not to a loaded roster as we have seen with so many stars recently. Leonard joined a solid if unspectacular Los Angeles Clippers team, instantly propelling them to contender status. Pushing them over the edge though, was a trade that sent Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and picks away for OKC Thunder forward, Paul George.
The Clips became instant favorites for a top-two finish in the West and will have elite defense to complement a solid offensive attack. They will be a force in the West, but won’t have to look far for stiff competition, as the LA Lakers made some moves of their own.
Retaining Kyle Kuzma and a guy named LeBron James for their core, the Lakers shipped the rest of their young cast to the New Orleans Pelicans for Anthony Davis. If James continues to hold up and Davis stays healthy, they have the potential to be an all-time-great tandem.
Those young players headed to the Pelicans (Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart) will join more than just former All-Star Jrue Holiday, but this year’s number one draft pick. Zion Williamson enters the league as perhaps the most touted prospect since King James. The expectations are monumental, but if he can stay in shape and his knees can withstand a year of constant ferocious dunks, he may very well meet them.
After trading away Paul George, Oklahoma City knew it was time to shift into a rebuilding phase. Russell Westbrook, after being drafted by Seattle and spending his whole career in OKC, was traded to Houston, reuniting him with former Thunder buddy and MVP hopeful, James Harden. The deal included Chris Paul, who is still currently in Oklahoma City, though the fit is curious for OKC’s new direction. It will be interesting to see if Paul and Gallinari are still in Thunder blue by the start of 2020.
Though a shakeup in standings may be coming, we have no reason to doubt the Western Conference will still feature a fantastic Golden State Warriors squad. Though they traded away an incredible player in Kevin Durant, they did receive an Eastern Conference All-Star in return in D’Angelo Russell, who will look to fill big shoes as Klay Thompson recovers from his Finals injury. Aside from Russell and Thompson, the Warriors still have two more All-Stars in Draymond Green and Steph Curry, who will likely be looking at and MVP-caliber season as the top dog once again. Do not count out these Warriors.
No strangers to the NBA Playoffs, but coming in with even more firepower this season, look for the Utah Jazz to make plenty of noise during their quest for a title. Subtle offseason additions of Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdonović should act as fantastic complements to their core of 2x DPOY Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell, and Joe Ingles.
A few teams with quiet offseasons in the West that should nevertheless return strong years are the Denver Nuggets, Portland Trailblazers, and ever-present San Antonio Spurs. The West is as deep as it has been in a while and should have plenty of wins floating around the bottom of the bracket as well between the Kings, Timberwolves, Grizzlies, and Mavericks, which now have Kristaps Porzingis back to pair with Luca Doncic. Phoenix will not be a good basketball team. Sorry, Phoenix.
Much as Kawhi Leonard changes the landscape of the Western Conference, so does he change the East. The reigning NBA Champion Toronto Raptors will be a much different team without their Finals MVP and two-way superstar. With the rest of their core intact (Lowry, Gasol, Siakim, Ibaka, VanVleet) and solid additions in Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson (if he finally takes a step forward), they will be a playoff team. Whether or not they can be a contender again hinges on the the continued development of last year’s Most improved Player, Pascal Siakam, who is now “the guy.”
Speaking of “the guy,” the Eastern Conference does still boast the reigning league MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Milwaukee Bucks also retained All-Star Kris Middleton and former All-Star Brook Lopez, thought they did have to see Malcolm Brogdon walk. Offseason acquisitions, Robin Lopez and Thanasis Antetokounmpo means the Bucks will sport two sets of brothers on their roster. That probably won’t have much on-court relevance, but it will be an interesting tidbit to tell your spouse while you try to keep them interested.
We already mentioned the trade that set D’Angelo Russell to the Warriors, so Kevin Durant is now officially in the Eastern Conference for the first time with the Brooklyn Nets. Unfortunately, Durant is injured and likely to miss this full season. He signed in Brooklyn not long after Kyrie Irving, who left a gaping, but very short-lived hole in the roster of the Boston Celtics.
Clearly having planned ahead, the Celtics were quick to swoop up a free agent point guard of their own in Kemba Walker. Statistically, Walker is not much of a downgrade and they can still operate under a scoring point guard in their system. Kemba’s so-so defense can be compensated for by Marcus Smart and athletic wings, lessening the blow of losing the NBA Champion Irving.
More difficult to replace for the Celtics will be the post play of Al Horford, who departed for the Philadelphia 76ers in free agency. Horford will take pressure off the oft-injured Joel Embiid to stay on the floor, and give them another solid presence on both ends of the floor. The player movement doesn’t stop there, as Sixers’ closer, Jimmy Butler left to be the top dog in Miami for the Heat.
Dwyane Wade is retired, but there have been hints that the door back is not completely closed. Whether he returns or not, this will be Jimmy Butler’s team. Butler, who had previously stated all he cares about is winning, will be looking at many fewer victories this season with his new, less talented squad.
The only team not mentioned so far that will look to take a notable step forward as a playoff contender is the Indiana Pacers with the return of Victor Oladipo, who was injured last season. There will be other improved organizations, though they will have plenty to prove before we can confidently look at them as legit playoff teams. One is the Atlanta Hawks with young guys like Trae Young, John Collins, and rookie Cam Reddish.
The Magic may be just good enough to manage another first-round exit; same with the Pistons. John Wall is not expected to be back this season for the Wizards, meaning they will remain a Bradley Beal show, likely right outside of the playoff race. The Bulls and Knicks enter the season with improved rosters (mostly a healthy Lauri Markkanen for Chicago and RJ Barrett for NY), but probably not enough to make a splash of any kind. The Cavaliers enter the season with solid trade chip, Kevin Love, but not much else. Top-to-bottom, the Western Conference is back to being the powerhouse.
So many storylines unfold over the course of an NBA season. Will Westbrook and Harden gel? Will Durant or Klay make a surprise playoff return? What is the real reason behind Carmelo Anthony not being able to crack a 12 man roster? Jimmy Butler left Karl-Anthony Towns for being lazy and is now paired with Hassan Whiteside… what? Will LeBron and AD rule Los Angeles or will it be the Klaw and PG13?
We are excited for the action to begin and we can’t believe it is so close. The NBA hosts the most elite basketball in the world and if you can’t tell, The Basketball Movement is all about it. Good luck also to our good friends that are suiting up this season looking to make a splash on their teams or in the league as a whole. Show ‘em what you can do. We will be watching!