The new 2018-19 season, like in all past seasons, will bring its own drama and storylines. Here are a few I hope will actually happen.
Kawhi Leonard succeeds, Raptors in NBA Finals. Just because the people of Toronto, and Masai Ujiri, deserve it. It was jarring for Raptors fans when DeMar DeRozan was traded; they were used to his heroics, and bedded in with his style. To have him traded away would have shaken the trust they have in their team president. A successful season would ease the pain of DeRozan’s loss, cement the Raptors in Leonard’s mind and validate Ujiri’s belief, which led to the trade … even though the Celtics are the team to beat in the East.
Jason Tatum avoids 2nd-year syndrome, blossoms at Celtics. Tatum wasn’t the top pick in the Draft, and wasn’t named Rookie of the Year. But the 19-year-old captured the imagination of basketball fans with gutsy displays in both the regular season (80 game starts) and the playoffs (also started all 19 Celtics games) by putting up decent numbers. The return of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward will likely mean the youngster sees less of the ball, but his undoubted talent should give him enough leverage for enough involvement to keep developing.
NBA Finals with two new teams. That has been the wish for several years now, as Golden State vs Cleveland have been the staple for the past four seasons. The odds of Cleveland returning to the Finals has now all but disappeared, so one part of the wish is granted. The other part is still far from happening, though. The contests between the Cavaliers and Warriors became riveting when the Cavs recorded an unlikely Finals series win in 2016. The last two meetings have been one-way traffic, and have taken the lustre off of the Finals. With the Celtics rising in the East, the only way I can see two new teams in the Finals is for …
Houston to make it out of the West. The Rockets looked to have ended the reign of the Warriors and sealed a place in the Finals when they took a 3-2 lead last season, with a home game to play. Then they lost CP3, and set a Finals record for missed 3-pointers. They will have a chance to take another shot at the Warriors this season, but it will not be easy. The Rockets added Carmelo Anthony, but the Warriors became the first team in history who could have five All-Stars in their starting lineup. Still, the Rockets remain arguably the only team that can upturn the Warriors applecart in the West. Will they?
Westbrook, Schroder together at Oklahoma. The talk of the summer, regarding the Thunder, has revolved around the decision of Paul George to re-sign with Oklahoma and what it means for the franchise. Not many have highlighted what the Gambian-German brings to the Thunder: an edgy game that can only be bettered by the high-tempo style of Westbrook. Should both play together, opponents are going to be at a loss on who to focus on. They could be the best backcourt combo in the league … if Billy Donovan can find a way to pair them.
Showtime again at Staples Center. And it’s not all about LeBron James. The Lakers have managed to assemble a roster with two good units: LeBron makes all around him better, so the efficiency of the first unit is guaranteed. The second unit will have Kyle Kuzma, who scores in bunches, Rajon Rondo, still arguably one of the best pass-first guards in the league, Lance Stephenson, and Josh Hart. So, while LeBron remains the top draw, there will be other attractions for the Lakers faithful, and that can only be good.
What Doncic brings to Dallas. There have been excellent European imports in the league, and most have arrived with promise and high expectations. Some have succeeded and some have flopped, but none have come advertised like the Slovenian playmaker. Dallas struck gold when the Atlanta Hawks agreed to trade him on Draft Night. The arrival of Doncic dovetails perfectly with the development of Dennis Smith Jr and the presence of DeAndre Jordan. Mavericks fans, and fans of basketball, are in for a treat.
DeRozan improves under Spurs’ Pop. DeRozan is already a four-time All-Star and two-time All-NBA selection, but he has never played for a coach like Gregg Popovich. There is no argument that the San Antonio coach is one of the best in the game, and while the Kawhi Leonard incident may have put a slight dent on his reputation as an excellent man manager, the odds are that DeRozan will grow to a new level at the Spurs – just as many players before him. And the process will be interesting to see: will he soar straight or first ‘diminish’ before taking off, like LaMarcus Aldridge?
All-Star Weekend always fun. It became even more interesting last season with the new format. LeBron James led the Eastern Conference voting last season, while Steph Curry led the West. It will be interesting to see who gets the nod to select the players for the West this season, with both players now in the same conference. And in the East, will Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid or Kyrie Irving do enough to captain the East? Or will another player sneak in from left field to snatch the honor?
Finally, Davis proves speculators wrong. Simply because if he doesn’t, the league will become crazier than it is right now. The Pelicans center recently changed agents, and the speculation is that he is preparing to switch teams … because that was what CP3 did just before he skipped town. It will be an amazing story if ‘The Brow’ can weather the storm of waiting, and lead The Big Easy to an NBA Finals and a Championship. But that’s romantic stuff … and romance has been far from the NBA since Boston put together a mini super team to win the 2008 Championship.
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