When Bucks All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo signed his extension with the Bucks recently, it felt like an odd moment in the current NBA landscape.
Here is a two-time MVP in the prime of his career opting not to jump for a larger market or to join forces with other superstar friends. Antetokounmpo chose to stick with the city and franchise that drafted him, and though the Bucks haven't won a title — suffering a pair of tough playoff losses in that pursuit — Antetokounmpo didn't bail. Instead, he is hoping he can be the anchor for the franchise to ultimately get a ring.
The amount of blog posts, tweets and ink used wondering where Antetokounmpo might go next proved pointless in the end, but such player movement has become the engine of the NBA's popularity. In some ways, that aspect of the NBA is more popular than the game itself. The drama of a disgruntled star blowing up a franchise is like reality TV and social media catnip in a culture that craves headline-grabbing moves.
Headed into this unique season, which tips off Tuesday, there is the potential for some more tectonic drama.
There is relative peace and tranquility around the center star of the NBA orbit — LeBron James — as James and Anthony Davis reunited to defend their title.
The situation with their cohabitants in Staples Center, the Clippers, isn't as rosy. After an early playoff bubble exit, the Clippers fired Doc Rivers and replaced him with Tyronn Lue.
Meanwhile, Kawhi Leonard's contract contains an opt out clause after this season that could detonate any chance the Clippers have of a championship future if he is unhappy after this season. Paul George, his running mate, just re-signed with the Clippers, but if Leonard doesn't like the mix with George, another superstar could be on the move as early as this summer.
Elsewhere in the Western Conference, another MVP, James Harden could be on another team sooner than later. Harden's camp has made it well known he wants out of Houston and is open to a trade to Brooklyn or Philadelphia, among others. The Wolves certainly wouldn't mind if Harden ended up in the opposite conference.
What happens with Harden could also affect what happens with the NBA's other combustible situation — the Nets. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant finally willl take the floor together now that Durant has fully recovered from a ruptured Achilles' he suffered in the 2019 Finals. No star in the NBA has been mercurial as Irving, and if he and Durant can't find chemistry, that's another situation that threatens to shake up the league.
Those are the superstars elusively chasing each others' legacies around the league. But a number of teams have adopted a more homegrown approach and are trying to develop their way into contention.
There was no better example of that last season than the Nuggets, who rode a brilliant playoffs from Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic, both draft picks of the franchise, past the favored Clippers into the Western Conference finals. But Denver lost some important complementary pieces in Jerami Grant and Mason Plumlee. However, if Michael Porter Jr. continues his ascent, the Nuggets should be back in contention.
The team Denver took down in a thrilling playoff series, Utah, is hoping its core of Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert can coexist peacefully after there was a rift in their relationship following Gobert's positive coronavirus diagnosis in March.
Portland had an eventful offseason trying to build a new dynamic roster around Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. They brought in Derrick Jones Jr., plus Robert Covington to bulk up their defense and Enes Kanter to just plain bulk them up.
Over in the East, former Wolves guard Jimmy Butler is looking to build on the captivating run to the finals the Heat made a season ago. The Bucks re-upped with Antetokounmpo, the Celtics still have the ultra-talented Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown while the league watches what Daryl Morey will do with the 76ers and Ben Simmons now that he is making decisions there. Morey has publicly said he won't deal Simmons in a package for Harden. But that could change.
In the landscape of this NBA, it has been hard for teams without James, Leonard or Durant to reach the summit. One of those three players has been on eight of the past nine title-winning teams. The only team that did it without them was the Warriors in 2015 before they signed Durant in 2016.
The Raptors tried going this route for years with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, but then only got over the championship hump when they traded DeRozan for one season of Leonard.
Could this be the year that changes? History would say no.