After 120+ days, we have finally tipped off with the start of the 2018/19 NBA season. The pre-season was one of activity to say the least, and many questions were being asked. Most important of those was answered by the L.A. Lakers, who ended up securing the signature of “The King”, LeBron James. Despite the media frenzy surrounding his departure from where he referred to as home, there were other major moves that have resulted in a potentially exciting NBA season ahead of us. A season that won’t be easy to predict for a change.
Major Movers and Potential Impact
As previously mentioned, LeBron has moved from “The Land” to “La La Land.” He has been followed there by a bunch of experienced players, like: the feisty Rajon Rondo (who already got himself into trouble for punching Chris Paul); Lance Stephenson; and Javale McGee. All very good players. Add the incredible youngsters they already possess amongst their ranks, and you have a franchise that is not only going to make the playoffs, but could even go all the way.
The second major move was that of Kawhi Leonard. He made sure everyone knew he no longer wanted to play for the San Antonio Spurs. This news got the attention of all the general managers. After all, Leonard is one the best two-way players in the league. Not convinced? Well, the fact that the Toronto Raptors traded the face of their franchise, DeMar DeRozan, for him, tells you everything you need to know. This signature is a bit of a risky one, though, to say the least. Toward the end of the last season, his attitude was more reminiscent of that of an adolescent teenager. Combine that with the question mark of an injury he is still recovering from, and you have a very shaky foundation beneath your feet. Having said that, a fully fit Leonard, with the right attitude, is unquestionably better than DeRozan.
Other major movers: DeAndre Jordan (Clippers to Mavericks); Carmelo Anthony (Thunder to Rockets); Trevor Ariza; Ryan Anderson (Rockets to Suns); and DeMarcus Cousins (Pelicans to Warriors).
Will it be the Warriors again?
For some people, this is easy to answer:
And it’s very hard to disagree with them. After all, they are a great team. The best I have ever seen, and maybe the best ever. My home in Beijing has more weaknesses than the roster they had last year. (Unfortunately, that’s not even a joke. Ah, a new crack’s appearing on the wall …)
I do believe, though, that the Warriors’ domination is nearing its end. It should have ended last year, but injuries to key opposition players aided the Warriors on their way to a third title in four years. This year, they are unlikely to go down without a fight, likely because of the addition of DeMarcus Cousins. That improves their starting line-up, as long as Cousins can adapt. By adapt, I mean, understand that Draymond Green tells you what to do, Steph Curry controls the ball and Kevin Durant gets the ball when he wants it. I’m not sure if Cousins will be very happy with that. Losing McGee (who’s now with the Lakers) is a huge blow, as he brought a ton of energy and scoring off the bench. It is the lack of bench scoring that will be Warriors’ downfall come the playoffs.
Last year, the likes of the Rockets, the Thunder, and the Jazz, amongst others, were able to compete with their starters, giving the impression that the Warriors were in trouble. Let’s say Durant, Curry and Thompson (Klay) go to the bench. The game is tied. Your coach thinks, “Right, better give my guys a rest, too.” Then, the next time you’re back in the game, you’re facing a 10+ point deficit. Last year, this scenario was happening again and again, against every different team.
This is not likely to be the case this year. Don’t get me wrong, the Warriors are still the team to beat. However, they are more likely to be beaten for a change. The Lakers have beaten the Warriors in a competitive-looking pre-season friendly, and they haven’t looked very convincing. Then again, the Warriors never stress themselves until the playoffs. After all, they will be regarded the team to beat, even if they are the lowest-ranked outfit in the playoffs.
Who can stop them?
Houston Rockets should have won last year, and despite losing two key defensive players, Ariza and Anderson, they are still full of talent. The biggest worry for them is that they have a very injury-prone Chris Paul, aka CP3. CP3 seems to solidify his importance to a franchise by making sure he misses some key playoff games through injury every year. His absence always results in defeats. The Rockets are led by the reigning MVP, James Harden, the most lethal scorer in the league. They have also signed some very good players to bulk up their bench. Defensively, the Rockets will be much weaker, and will probably concede a century in most games, which is a huge X towards their chances. Having said that, any team that keeps them below 115 points will have done well.
The likes of the aforementioned Lakers, as well as the Nuggets and Jazz, will provide some worthy opposition to the Warriors in the Western Conference. All three have a balanced squad. These sides are sharing the ball and making sure that the points get spread around, whereas previous contenders, such as the Spurs and Trailblazers, are expected to fall away drastically as the season progresses.
From the East, expect the Boston Celtics to do very well. Last year, they were being touted as potential title winners. They had just signed two superstars, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, only to witness Hayward break his leg at the start of the season. Think of this season as, “Take Two.”
The Raptors will need Kawhi to perform, and the Philadelphia 76ers will need the likes of Joel Embiid, Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons to stop thinking they are amazing, and actually show that they are.
Whatever happens, it will be an intriguing season with a lot of possibilities. My prediction: The Western Finals will see the Rockets and Warriors face off for a second year running. The Eastern Finals will be between the Celtics and Raptors. The Rockets will eventually beat the Celtics in the NBA finals, and put an end to Golden State’s domination.
Oh wait …
Did you guys hear that?
Yep. CP3 just twisted his ankle at the thought of winning a title.