Seven NBA teams will allow reduced crowds inside their arenas for the 2020-21 NBA season. Meanwhile, I have not allowed a friend in my home in over nine months. That leads to the duality of feelings as this season opens – happiness to watch basketball again, mixed with the fatigue of this pandemic-caused quarantine. For a short while, the NBA shut down the same way I shut down. Now they open, while things on my home front still remain closed, for now. Hope is around the corner, sure, but Christmas Day will come with games to watch, but no extended family to watch those games with. A small complaint in a year filled with bigger issues.
For me, 2020 hasn’t been all bad. Looking back on this year, my first memory will always be of my daughter’s birth, even if that memory will inevitably include my Chicago Bulls mask placed over my mouth as she entered the world. Even my basketball memories of 2020 won’t be all bad. Yes, the Gobert-induced outbreak will coincide with our start of a quarantine, but moreso will be memories of bubble basketball, playoff buzzer beaters and another title for the King on his Magic Kingdom court.
Still, it’s hard to position the excitement for this upcoming season within the ball of anxiety about the world around us. I’m thrilled to have the nightly escape of NBA basketball returning, but at the same time I know that sweet escape will be only a momentary diversion from the feeling of being trapped inside, away from so many loved ones. Nobody really wants to read an article about all the ways quarantining is stressful, or even one condemning the monied interests that are putting so many people at risk for all of our enjoyment. That’s not really the kind of content people are searching online for. So instead, let’s kick this season off with a list of things to be excited about for what will surely be a complicated, but competitive NBA season.
- The Return of Kevin Durant
In a different timeline, this bullet point would celebrate the return of both Durant and Klay Thompson, after both went down injured in the 2019 NBA Finals and missed the entirety of the 2020 season. Unfortunately, a pick-up game injury will cost Klay another year of his career and we’ll have to wait for the Splash Brothers to be complete and to compete again. We won’t, however, have to wait long for the return of KD, with a Warriors-Nets battle in Brooklyn kicking off our season.
Last time we saw Durant, he was the piece that took the Warriors from title favorites to unfair designated champions, until of course, he wasn’t. We don’t know what Durant will be like on the new look Nets, but all indications from preseason are that he is still going to be a problem for the entire league. Surrounding him with a playmaker like Kyrie Irving, a shooter like Joe Harris and players like Caris LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie means we’ll be in for a whole-new Durant show, and maybe even the beginning of a whole-new Durant Dynasty.
It might be too early to make the Nets anything more than a trendy pre-season Finals pick, but with all the pieces they have in place – on the court and on the bench – a Finals trip might just be the start for KD’s new dream team.
- The Next Generation of Stars
Season two for Ja Morant and Zion Williamson, along with new levels of pressure for Devin Booker, Jamal Murray and Donovan Mitchell brings excitement about this next generation of NBA stars. While Durant’s return and LeBron’s defense might take center stage come June, the start of the season is always an exciting time to see how the youngsters have grown. Sure, it hasn’t been a long off-season, but for some players, like Chicago’s Coby White, we’ve waited over nine months to see them play and see how much they’ve grown. And for other players, like Boston’s Jayson Tatum, we’ve waited less time, but they’ve still been growing, with Tatum reportedly checking into the season two inches taller.
The next generation of NBA players will have an unenviable task, playing in front of mostly empty arenas. Still, there will be millions watching at home, waiting to see who will be the stars to take the game to the next level and lead the game in the next generation. The stars of today and yesterday can only hang on for so long. This year will be an important time to see who the marquee names for tomorrow and the years to come will be.
- Westbrook Outside the Western Conference
After a year sojourn to Houston, Russell Westbrook is on the move again, this time changing conferences and jersey numbers with a move to the Washington Wizards. Westbrook has been a Western Conference player and All-Star for the majority of his career. Nobody knows what it will look like with him on the Wizards, playing alongside Bradley Beal, Davis Bertans and Thomas Bryant, but for a team that had a high-powered offense last year things should be looking up. Add to that a coach familiar with Westbrook in Scott Brooks, and Russ might be looking at having a bounce-back season after a difficult bubble and playoff performance had many forgetting his earlier year stats.
Westbrook might no longer be the MVP-caliber triple-double machine he became in OKC, but with a new cast in the nation’s capitol, there’s much to be excited about during his first season in a new conference.
- New Champions
This one might be a bit of a stretch, but whatever, let’s make some guesses. Even though the Lakers added intriguing pieces in Montrezl Harrell, Dennis Schroeder, Marc Gasol and Wes Matthews, and have many pundits ranking them as heavy title-favorites entering the season, how much fun is another Lakers title really going to be. I mean, really? And yes, I know my editor is probably shaking his head and saying “lots of fun,” but screw that, I’m taking the field. LeBron James got his fourth NBA title and the Lakers got their 17th and honestly, that’s enough for both of them. Plus, there’s something nice about new champs, a team winning for the first time, or the first time in a long time. It’s like a breath of fresh air.
Let’s have the 2020-21 season be a season of truly new beginnings, with new champions, and new superstars, and new players in new places. After the year that was, we could all use a little new, and it would be real nice if the championship gods could cooperate and give us something extra to be excited for this season.