Upcoming NBA season full of intrigue, personnel shifts
After one of the craziest offseasons in the league’s history, the NBA is back. In case you weren’t following along this summer, let’s get you caught up.
After the Cleveland Cavaliers came back to defeat the Golden State Warriors in seven games, the Warriors lost fellow starters Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut to the Dallas Mavericks as they pursued and eventually signed superstar Kevin Durant, creating controversy across the league around the proverbial “super team” discussion. Russell Westbrook is now the lone star in Oklahoma City after Serge Ibaka signed with the Orlando Magic, attempting to bolster a roster filled with young and improving talent. Part of that young team in Orlando has moved on however, as Victor Oladipo was moved to Oklahoma City to try and help lead Westbrook and the Thunder into the future. A former star in Orlando, Dwight Howard, signed with the Atlanta Hawks, returning home looking to turn his career around after recent troubling stints since leaving the Magic.
Howard was not the only player to return home this season, as Chicago-native Dwyane Wade signed with the Bulls to join fellow signee Rajon Rondo in their quest to turn Chicago into a playoff contender once again. The former face of the Bulls, Derrick Rose, was traded in a deal that sent not only him, but Joakim Noah as well, to the New York Knicks, making some noise this summer, as the Knicks seek to also make a return to playoff basketball.
A fellow divisional rival of the Knicks, the Boston Celtics, made headlines by first going after Kevin Durant, but after losing in the “KD Sweepstakes,” signed All-Star power forward Al Horford to help lead a young and very promising franchise led by an outstanding basketball mind in Brad Stevens, their head coach. One team that the Celtics, as well as the rest of the Eastern Conference, will certainly fear this season is the Indiana Pacers, especially after their “summer makeover,” where they revamped nearly their entire starting lineup. The former Celtic legend, Larry Bird (Indiana’s Team President), signed center Al Jefferson from the Charlotte Hornets, forward Thaddeus Young of the Brooklyn Nets and All-Star point guard Jeff Teague of the Atlanta Hawks (which leaves Dennis Schroeder to lead the Hawks full-time as their point guard). This season could be PG13’s (Paul George) return to the playoffs.
While one Brooklyn Net leaves a new one arrives as Jeremy Lin — a fan favorite across the globe — signed this offseason looking to prove that he is worthy of leading his own team. Pau Gasol will be replacing a legend in Tim Duncan in San Antonio, hoping to lead his new team as well, along with fellow stars LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard.
We are losing some legends of the game this season, as Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett have decided to retire, ending their certainly first-ballot Hall of Fame careers.
With all of the offseason drama that has occurred, this NBA season looks to be one of the best to date. Starting in the Western Conference, I will be looking forward to watching the “new-look” Warriors attempt to shoot more three’s, score more points, and win more games than ever. With Durant gone, I am ready for the Russell Westbrook show. It’s time he is given the respect that he deserves as one of, if not the best point guards in the league. Another point guard to watch out West is James Harden. That’s right, James Harden is now a point guard. Mike D’Antoni, the new Houston Rockets head coach has moved Harden to the one, looking to exploit other smaller and less physical point guards.
The Spurs will certainly have a shot at a title, as they always do, under the tutelage of Greg Popovich, and it will now be up to Leonard and Aldridge to carry the bulk of the load with the help of Gasol and company.
A young and up-and-coming team that could challenge Western Conference powers this year is the Portland Trailblazers. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum had outstanding years together in their first season running the backcourt together, and this year should be no different with the addition of Evan Turner, who will look to lighten both of their loads on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor.
Two teams to watch out for this season in the West are the Utah Jazz and the Phoenix Suns. Both are young and have All-Star potential players on their roster gaining experience. Gordon Hayward, the face of the Jazz, is injured to begin the season, but he will be back as a second tier wing in this league along with Rodney Hood, the lanky wing from Duke, who really came along last season. He, as well as the rest of the young talent in Utah, has shown that when given time on the floor, you can expect good things. The Suns have a possible Most Improved Player candidate in Devin Booker. The six-foot-six shooting guard has size, length, a knockdown perimeter shot, and handles. You will want to watch out for him.
In the Eastern Conference I will be keeping a close eye on the defending-champs, the Cleveland Cavaliers, as they begin their run at a second straight title. Be sure to note that the “King,” LeBron James, looks as dominant as he has ever looked this preseason; a scary sight for the league. I am excited for the Celtics and their new acquisition of Al Horford to try and make another run this season in the playoffs. Look for plenty of winning in Toronto lead by Kyle Lowry, Demar Derozan, and of course, Drake.
It will be interesting to see if the Knicks, Bulls and Pacers can all try and get back into the playoffs after revamping their rosters this summer. I predict that the Pacers will return to the playoffs, but the Knicks and the Bulls will have to wait at least one more year. Look for Hassan Whiteside to dominate this season for the Miami Heat as one of the premiere candidates for Defensive Player of the Year. He is now the face of the franchise with Wade moving on, and Chris Bosh not expected back until February — if at all — this season.
My award predictions this year are as follows: the MVP of this season will be Russell Westbrook, leading the Thunder for the first time alone, he will have a season to remember. Hassan Whiteside will win Defensive Player of the Year with his efforts on the glass as well as shot-blocking, while being the leading scorer on the team. He will be an MVP candidate this season.
The Rookie of the Year will be Buddy Hield from the New Orleans Pelicans, who can now shoulder the load that Anthony Davis has been bearing, and try and bring New Orleans back to the playoffs. The Sixth Man of the Year this year will be Enes Kanter of the Oklahoma City Thunder. I expect Westbrook to get the ball to Kanter plenty this season, and Kanter’s contributions will help guide the Thunder back to the playoffs.
The Most Improved Player this year will be Devin Booker of the Suns, who will get his first full year of starting at shooting guard, and will look to continue his recent success from the preseason. A notable potential runner-up could be Zach LaVine of the Minnesota Timberwolves, who also have a young and improving roster that will certainly be a formidable contender soon. In the end, I see the Golden State Warriors dethroning the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals in five games, with Kevin Durant winning Finals MVP honors. I do not see the Warriors winning more than 73 games this season; however, I also do not see them blowing a three games to one lead as they did just this past summer.