The 2020-21 NBA season was certainly filled with surprises and firsts. The 2020-21 season was the first time that the league saw the playoff play-in tournament, which gave the 9th and 10th seeds of each conference the chance to play for an opportunity to sneak into the playoffs. Giannis Antetokounmpo became the first finals MVP from Greece in NBA history and the first forgien finals MVP since Dirk Nowitzki who won it in 2011. Chris Paul finally made his way into the NBA finals for the first time in his 16 year long NBA career. Nikola Jokic became the first center since Saquille O’neal (1999-2000 season) to win MVP. After an eventful 2020-21 season and a seemingly long off season, the NBA is finally just around the corner once again. On tuesday October 19th, the Brooklyn Nets and Milawkee Bucks will play the first game of the season. With the new season quickly coming up, here are a few teams to keep an eye on while the season unfolds.
The Defending Champions: Milwaukee Bucks
Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks were finally able to break through and reach the pinnacle of basketball, allowing themselves to be referred to as the defending champions. With most of the team’s money going towards the big three of Antetokounmpo, Kris Middleton and Jrue Holiday, the Bucks were not expected or posed to make many off season moves. However, fan favorite Bobby Portis agreed to a new deal worth $9 million over the next two years. The Bucks lost two key shooters in PJ Tucker and Byrn Forbes. In an attempt to replace the two “3 and D” players, Milwaukee brought in Duke allum Grayson Allen, as well as veterans Rodney Hood and George Hill. The pieces are there for the Bucks to return to the NBA finals. Milwaukee’s big three have already proven that they can get it done, execution from role players will be imperative for the Buck’s success this year.
The Defending Runner-Ups: Phoenix Suns
Phoenix shocked the league by making a deep playoff run including claiming a western conference championship in a loaded western conference. This playoff run came after the 2019-2020 season that didn’t include the playoffs for the Suns at all. The biggest move that the Suns made this off season was resigning their all-star veteran leader in Chris Paul. Phoenix and Paul agreed to a $120 million four year deal. Cam Payne also struck a deal with the team by resigning for another 3 years for $19 million. Phoenix added big man depth to their roster by signing JaVale McGee. Landry Shamet and Elfrid Payton were also added to the roster to add guard depth. Continuous production from their star Devin Booker again this upcoming season will be a big factor in determining the teams success.
The free agency period in the off season has proven yet again to shake the league up. With countless star players moving across the country to join new teams, many teams will have a completely new look to them. Here are six teams to keep an eye on as the new season progresses.
Los Angeles Lakers:
Any Lebron James led team has never shied away from making headlines through free agent signings or trades. This 2021-2022 Lakers team is no exception. The Lakers had one of, if not the most active off seasons in basketball this year. The Lakers struck a deal early in the offseason with Washington sending Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrez Harrell and three future second round picks en route to acquiring Russell Westbrook.The Lakers completely flipped their roster by adding big names such as Carmelo Anothony, Dwight Howard, Rajon Rondo, Marc Gasol, Malik Monk, Wayne Ellington, Trevor Ariza and Kendrick Nunn. L.A did all this while still holding onto 20 year old Talen Horton-Tucker. The Lakers will make history this season for being the first team to have seven players who have been selected to an all-star game in the past (James, Westbrook, Davis, Howard, Gasol, Rondo and Anthony). Being the oldest team in the league, Injuries and fatigue very well may be the determining factor as to how far the Lakers will go this season.
When healthy, there simply is not a team in the league that can guard Brooklyn’s big three at the same time. A big three consisting of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving is a matchup nightmare for any head coach. This offseason Brooklyn has added some veterans to help round out the supporting cast for their big three including Patty Mills, Bruce Brown, Paul Milsap and LaMarcus Aldridge. Not to mention the re-signing of forward Blake Griffin on a one year minimum salary deal. Complications with Kyrie Irving have left a big question mark on his status with the team moving forward. With the Nets recently announcing that Irving will not be able to play or practice with the team until he is vaccinated, the future for Irving’s basketball career is certainly clouded. Kyrie Irving or no Kyrie Irving, The Nets are undoubtedly a team to watch out for this season.
Golden State Warriors:
The 2021 Golden State Warriors are no longer what they used to be during their time atop of the basketball world, however they have built a team that should get Warriors fans excited again. Most notably, sharp shooter Klay Thompson will make his long awaited return from a torn right achilles tear. This off season for the Warriors saw both Kent Bazemore and Kelly Oubre Jr. pack their stuff up and head to different teams. To make up for these losses, the Warriors brought their 2015 finals MVP in Andre Iguodala back as well as Otto Porter and Nemanja Bjelica. All of these players were signed to one year minimum salaries. Another noteworthy item for the Warriors was their performance in this year’s draft. The Dubs selected Jonathan Kuminga with the seventh pick and Moses Moody with the 14th pick. The Warriors are hoping for both of these young players to have an immediate impact. It will be interesting to see if Steph Curry and his Warriors can mesh together after not playing together for so long, as well as the new players that they have brought in this offseason.
The Chicago Bulls will have a completely new look to them this year. After a very productive offseason the Bulls have a team that is posed to make a deep run this year. Big names such as Lonzo Ball, DeMar DeRozen and Alex Caruso are now calling Chicago home. These new faces joining the likes of Zach Lavine and Nikola Vucevic is a dangerous combination. Chicago has great depth on their roster including rookie Ayo Dosunmu who was the teams second round draft pick, picked 38th overall.The Bulls gained a new backup center in Tony Bradely. Bradley landed himself a new contract with Chicago for nearly four million dollars over two years.
Chicago’s front office won’t lose much sleep over the losses of big men Daneil Theis and Lauri Markkean considering what they were able to bring in return. The manner in which head coach Billy Donovan incorporates his new weapons will be a big deciding factor in how much success the Bull will have this season.
The biggest move in an otherwise uneventful offseason for the Mavericks was extending their star Luka Dončić for $207 million dollars over the span of the next five years. Dallas was able to bring back key chemistry players Tim Hardaway Jr and Boban Marjanovic. Big man Moses Brown was also brought in from Boston in a deal that sent former Maverick Josh Richardson to Boston. Possibly the biggest addition to the squad this offseason was Reggie Bullock who agreed to the terms of a three year, $30.5 million dollar contract. While Dallas may have not signed a star this off season, they improved by building around the star that they already have in Luka Dončić. The Addition of these role players makes all the more sense to have the offsenve completely run through Dončić once again this season. Make sure to keep an eye on the play of Dončić as most of the team’s success (or lack thereof) will be on his shoulders.
The Boston Celtics certainly had a busy offseason this year. Former coach Brad Stevens stepped down as coach and assumed a new position as president of basketball operations, replacing Danny Ainge. Ime Udoka has been hired to lead this young Celtics team as their new head coach. Al Horford was brought back in a deal that departed Kemba Walker from the team after only two short seasons. While the Celtics were not able to sign a superstar this offseason, they had many new additions such as guards Dennis Schroder and Josh Richardson. As well as the return of Enes Kanter. Point guard Kris Dunn was brought in but quickly shipped out for another big man in Juan Hernangomez. Key players Robert Williams and Marcus Smart were both signed to four year contract extensions which will go far in keeping the team’s core together moving forward. Evan Fournier, Tristan Thompson and Semi Ojeleye are among the names that departed from Boston this offseason. While the depth of Boston’s bench may have been turned over with some new faces, the core of the team remained intact. If Boston wants to be successful this year, the new and old role players will need to support star players Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
Multiple teams that did not make this list are also posed to make deep runs this season. The NBA will have a different look to it this year for certain. One thing that all NBA fans can agree on is that the best time of the year is finally upon us.