Hopefully everyone’s whiplash from the offseason has subsided. The 2019 summer will go down as one of the most consequential in NBA history. Just look at the blockbuster names who moved teams via trade or free agency: Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Chris Paul, Kemba Walker, Jimmy Butler and Mike Conley. Now, fans get to see where all the pieces fit. Often, the games take a back seat to the breathless player drama and transactions. But rarely has there been so much newness in the league to begin a season. Here are some story lines worth watching.
No clear-cut title favorite
The volume of All-Star caliber players changing residences actually did a lot for parity in the league. Without Durant, the Warriors are no longer the clear-cut favorite to win the title, but who is? Most would say the Clippers, but that’s not a guarantee. There are eight to 10 teams who have strong hopes of making the finals. Contrast that with most of the last decade when it was whoever LeBron James played for and the Spurs or Warriors. The playoffs might actually make for intriguing drama from the start instead of just in the finals.
The China situation
Rockets general manager Daryl Morey set off a firestorm when he tweeted support for protesters in Hong Kong and angered the Chinese government in doing so. The players make millions in shoe deals and advertisements in China. The league itself makes billions of dollars in Chinese broadcast rights. The future of these business relationships is up in the air all because of one tweet. As it pertains to the game, if those league broadcast deals are affected in China, it could reduce the amount of basketball-related income the league receives, which in turn could affect projections for the salary cap, which then affects the free-agent and trade markets. It’s a problem with no easy solution currently.
There may be no consensus preseason champion, but it’s not hard to see the Western Conference is much better than the East again. The depth of the West is astounding, making it hard for younger teams focused on development (like the Wolves) to knock on the door of the playoffs even if they end up approaching .500. The path to the title is much easier in the East, where Philadelphia and Milwaukee are likely to duke it out in the conference finals. No playoff team from the West got worse except for Oklahoma City and Golden State, and the Lakers promise to be a contender.
L.A. the mecca of basketball
No city in the league will have the spotlight on it quite like Los Angeles now with Leonard and George on the Clippers and James and Davis on the Lakers. With the Lakers, be prepared for another season of drama, as usually happens with every James team good or bad. And Leonard may help turn the Clippers into the league’s quietest contender. It’ll be an interesting dynamic. Can two superstars carry the Lakers or will the Clippers’ depth prevail? Staples Center bragging rights will be on the line all season.
The death of the big three
At least for this year there are no “big threes” like the Celtics, Heat, Cavaliers and Warriors of recent vintage. Instead, there are a lot of “big twos” like Irving and Durant, James and Davis, Leonard and George, James Harden and Westbrook. All of them are new pairings. It’s likely they won’t all work out perfectly, and for those that don’t it promises to create the kind of drama fans love to gobble up on social media.