All the major sports sites are having their NBA Preview series. In keeping with the time-honored tradition, this representation will present its own nuanced approach.
One of the biggest differences between this season and the previous one, there is no huge free agency hullaballoo looming like a dark cloud over every team.
Now, teams can concentrate on trades, and will not be held hostage by their free agents-to-be.
The LA teams will make the playoffs, and will likely be contenders, but who else will be there in the West with them?
The Denver Nuggets could be the dark horse contender. While many thought that Nikola Jokic is not a prime player after a lackluster stint at the World Cup, most NBA observers would confess that it’s irrelevant in their side of the earth.
The team that finished 2nd in a competitive Western Conference, also the fifth youngest team in the league, will be a year older. Jokic, despite his sage-y reputation around the league, is just 24 years old. This is the part of a player’s career where “a year older” is a good thing, and most of the Nuggets are on that spectrum.
They have a new acquisition in Jerami Grant, a player on the verge of a breakout season and while they are a top playoff team, they will have a prime rookie prospect in Michael Porter, Jr. Once a top high school prospect, he will join a complete roster.
Both the Clippers and Lakers have holes in their roster that the Nuggets do not. They even took a gamble on BolBol, since they can afford to lose out. What if the Bol gamble works and he becomes the steal of the draft?
Who would be the players not likely to stay in their own team?
Karl-Anthony Towns could be the next big man with a “K” first name who’ll find his way out of Minnesota. The Timberwolves have lost Kevin Garnett and Kevin Love through trades, just to pre-empt their departure via free agency.
Armed with two of the most heralded first overall picks of the past half-decade, they have been the league’s underachievers. With the free agency door closed, the only chance for ambitious teams is to make a trade.
Towns is signed until 2024, curiously, with no option. It is not an easy prediction to make, and Towns is seemingly content with his situation in Minnesota, playoffs or not. This may even be a far-fetched, or outlandish take.
However, there are teams with multiple assets, high ambition and insatiable pride. There are a lot of positive projections for the Wolves after they have shipped Jimmy Butler — another bad decision that was borne out of the pressure to improve. All it got them was one short playoff round.
This is why this is a very pedestrian prediction: Someone will offer the moon and the stars to Minnesota for Karl=Anthony Towns, and they could bite.
An easier prediction involves Chris Paul. OKC is simply a stopover at this point. Both sides want to get rid of each other. CP3 would rather not waste one of his few remaining playing years (and chances to win a title) with a team that has no choice but to rebuild.
They have to sell that Paul is still a difference maker in the playoffs, though, for any contender to take interest, and pay the steep price tag. If there would be implications on the salary cap after the China crisis, then more teams will hesitate.
The NBA passed the test, and they did not succumb to Chinese pressure to have Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey fired. The China revenue is lost, and giving in would lead to losing American and Western revenue — without the guarantee that what they lost to Beijing would be returned.
Which would actually augur well for the rest of the league. Less global grandstanding, less white-knighting (yes, LeBron, you blew it) and more actual basketball. Players will finally appreciate their paychecks, something their millions of fans could only dream of.