The 2019-20 National Basketball Association season preview is right around the corner, and with it, parity is the highest the Association has seen in ages. Toronto made it official: Golden State is beatable, especially with Kevin Durant leaving to join Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn. The league is wide open. Anyone can win. Dynamic duos and trios abound. Buckle up, ladies and gentlemen, we’re in for a ride.
Los Angeles Clippers: The odds-on favorites in Las Vegas, the Clippers undoubtedly won the offseason, going from a 15/1 chance of winning the title to 8/1 overnight. The acquisition of playoff hero Kawhi Leonard paved the way for the Paul George trade, in which the Clips sent Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, and five first round picks to Oklahoma City. Five firsts. Let that sink in. Steep as the price may have been, Toronto showed that swinging for the fences pays off. The Clips resigned all-universe defender Patrick Beverley, a key player in last season’s playoff series with Golden State. Additionally, the Clippers went across the hall to nab center Ivica Zubac from the Lakers. Los Angeles enters the year with a chance to do something no Clippers team has ever done before; win a championship. Their starting five will be one of the best in the league, but it remains to be seen if their depth can get it done.
Los Angeles Lakers: LeBron James. Anthony Davis. The Lakers mortgaged their future on the back end of LeBron’s career. They shipped Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and four first round picks to the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for Davis’ All-NBA talents. Free agent center DeMarcus Cousins also joined the Lakers this offseason, but is expected to miss a significant amount of time due to injury. To replace him, the Lakers signed eight-time All-Star Dwight Howard. Howard returns to Los Angeles a very different player than Hollywood last saw him. Once one of the league’s premier big men, Howard has since become a journeyman, bouncing from team to team in an effort to salvage his career. He’ll split minutes with incumbent starter JaVale McGee, but both centers may find themselves behind Anthony Davis, should new head coach Frank Vogel decide to get creative with rotations. The Lakers have the talent, but cohesion remains a question.
Milwaukee Bucks: The Bucks have something no other team can match. They have Giannis Antetokounmpo, the reigning league MVP. Milwaukee also brings back All-Star Khris Middleton, as well as starting center Brook Lopez. However, continuity came at the cost of floor general Malcolm Brogdon, now with the Indiana Pacers. To cover the loss, Milwaukee signed free agent veterans Wesley Matthews and Kyle Korver. The Bucks won the most games in the league this past season, and 2019 Coach Of The Year Mike Budenholzer brings back a roster flush with veterans, by and large a recipe for success for Bud’s past teams. Giannis and the Bucks were two wins away from an NBA Finals appearance last year, but their youth was their undoing. A year older and wiser, this may be the season to finally fear the deer.
Philadelphia 76ers: The Sixers have been trusting the process for a long time now, and it has yielded them two superstars in Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Their offseason acquisition of Al Horford provides some much needed relief for Embiid. The Jimmy Butler trade netted Josh Richardson and a welcome freedom from Butler’s locker room presence. The Sixers also brought in depth in veteran big man Kyle O’Quinn and wing James Ennis III. The main problem facing this Philly squad is shooting, or lack thereof. Marksman JJ Redick left for New Orleans in the offseason, leaving the Sixers bereft of elite three point shooting. Philadelphia was barely above the league average three point percentage as a team last year, and they return only one player who shot above 40 percent during the regular season in forward Mike Scott. The Sixers have superstars and key role players, but the NBA in 2019 is a shooter’s league, and Philadelphia has precious few of those. Philly will look to lean on the dynamic duo of Simmons and Embiid once more, but as we know, Embiid’s health is never a certainty, as he’s never played more than 64 games in a season, and Simmons’ scoring has shown itself to be less than consistent.
Golden State Warriors: No team has made five consecutive NBA Finals appearances since the 1960s Celtics. Until the Warriors. Since 2015, the Warriors have run through the league on the backs of stars like Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green. That seems likely to change. Toronto beat the Warriors in six games and proved to the rest of the league that LeBron wasn’t the only man capable of taking down the Dubs. Injuries plagued Golden State in the finals. Kevin Durant fell to a torn Achilles tendon, and Thompson went down with a torn ACL. Durant, of course, is no longer in the Bay Area, as he joined the Brooklyn Nets during the offseason. It isn’t all doom and gloom in San Francisco, the Warriors did acquire star guard D’Angelo Russell from the same Nets that now have KD. The Dubs also signed center Willie Cauley-Stein away from Sacramento to replace the oft-injured DeMarcus Cousins, now in LA. Golden State has a new-look roster for a new-look league. They aren’t the team they used to be, but they can still start five All-Stars. No other team in the league can say that. These aren’t the 73 win Warriors of 2016, but they should still be feared.
Washington Wizards: Someone help Bradley Beal. The Wizards won’t do it, but someone definitely should. His backcourt mate John Wall isn’t the player he once was, and has a contract so massive that it has already handicapped the Wizards in multiple free agent pursuits. Wall is owed a staggering $171,131,520 through 2023. That’s a ton of money for a guy who missed 50 games this past season. Wall’s contract makes him essentially impossible to move via trade, seeing as no team wants to take on an injured guard that makes 171 million over the next three years. Washington has made efforts to become a contender in the east, but their best strategy is likely to be blowing it up. Beal is still young enough to bring in a solid haul of picks or young talent. Young players like Thomas Bryant and Rui Hachimura have the potential to contribute to a playoff team. Washington has been mired in mediocrity for nearly a decade now, and has done little to nothing to save themselves from this fate.
New York Knicks: Of all the places to be bad, New York is easily the worst, as evidenced by the infamous booing of All-Star Kristaps Porzingis on draft night in 2015. Knicks fans have been brutal to their hometown team since the Knicks’ inception in the 40s. New York’s last playoff appearance was in 2012-13, during which they took two games off of Indiana in the semifinals. Carmelo Anthony has been gone since 2017, and the Knicks haven’t found a star to replace him. Rookie wing RJ Barrett has the potential to be that guy. Offseason signing Julius Randle could be a borderline All-Star in a more open league, but he isn’t the messiah New York craves. For ages the Knicks have banked on the bright lights of the Big Apple to draw free agents, but, shockingly enough, basketball players like to be on good basketball teams. The Knicks aren’t one of those good basketball teams. New York has employed six different head coaches since 2012. It has only been seven years since that time. The Knicks as a franchise have no direction. The team has no identity. The Knicks themselves don’t know who they are, they don’t know where they want to go as a team. They signed three different power forwards this season. Three guys can’t play the same position at the same time. They can try to put Randle, Bobby Portis and Marcus Morris on the court together, but it won’t work well.
Charlotte Hornets: It’s hard not to feel bad for the Hornets. Star guard Kemba Walker had been the ultimate Hornet, constantly putting on for the franchise during the pits of mediocrity the team experienced. Kemba is gone now with him signing to Boston. Terry Rozier is the new leading man in the Queen City. There may not be a more obscure “face of the franchise” this side of the millenium. Charlotte needs Miles Bridges to make a massive leap this year if the team wants to have any hope for the next five seasons. Charlotte has significant needs at all five spots on the floor. Rozier is likely to have nice numbers this season, but they’ll be empty. Lots of points, very few wins. During the 2011-12 season, the Hornets won only seven games. Granted, the season was shortened by lockout, but only one team has been within three games of that record since its being set. The bright side for Charlotte is that all of their young players will get lots of playing time this year. We’re probably going to get lots of fun highlights from Bridges, Malik Monk, and PJ Washington this year. So, that’s pretty neat. Don’t expect wins, though. You’ll be disappointed.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Just a few short years ago, the Cleveland Cavaliers were atop the NBA landscape. LeBron was in town, Kyrie still enjoyed Ohio, life was good. Now? Not so much. Only three players remain from the 2016 championship team. Kevin Love is still an All-Star talent, but precious little talent surrounds him. Guards Collin Sexton and Darius Garland appear to have the keys to the franchise long term, but Cleveland has a long way to go to realize any sort of vision. Should Cleveland decide to blow it all up, they have assets that could secure them a lot of draft capital over the next 10 years. Love is a seamless fit for many contending teams, and veterans Larry Nance Jr and Tristan Thompson could return a first rounder or other young talent for the Cavs to develop. First-year head coach John Beilein is making the jump from college to the NBA, a transition that has caused trouble for teams before, and will no doubt increase the learning curve for an already young Cleveland squad.
Minnesota Timberwolves: The Wolves seemed like they had it all. Two number one overall picks in Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, and All-Star veterans in Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague. Deep playoff runs were certainly in the near future. Then Butler forced his way out. Minnesota got Robert Covington in return, though, so things weren’t that bad yet. Last season, Teague missed half the year due to a knee injury. Wiggins has never become the player so many promised he would. Rookie Jarrett Culver may soon replace Wiggins, as the two play the same position, and Culver has already shown to be a more capable defender. Fresh off a season in which he averaged 24 points and 12 rebounds per game, Towns is comfortably in the upper echelon of NBA talent, but his supporting cast leaves a lot to be desired. Minny signed former Golden State Warrior Jordan Bell this offseason, and Bell is sure to shore up a lacking defense, but Towns can’t do it all himself. Culver and Covington are going to have to step up in a big way if the Wolves are going to be any sort of relevant this season.
The Really, Really Fun
New Orleans Pelicans: The Pelicans were thrust into the public eye this past season when all-world big man Anthony Davis demanded a trade. Davis is now a Laker, and in return, the Pelicans received one of the largest hauls of young talent in recent memory. Former Lakers Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Josh Hart are now in the Big Easy, along with Zion Williamson, New Orleans’ rookie messiah. Williamson isn’t the Pelicans only rookie, he’s joined by fellow first round picks Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker. All-defense team member Jrue Holiday returns to lead a team full of young players itching for a playoff berth. Offseason acquisitions Derrick Favors and JJ Redick add some much needed experience to guide the NBA’s most exciting daycare. Teams that find themselves in the position the Pels were in with Davis rarely get fair compensation for their superstar, but the Pelicans may have gotten more than that. General Manager Dan Gilbert has done a masterful job of wheeling and dealing his way into a potential playoff team. There’s a real possibility these Pelicans push for a low playoff spot. Anthony Davis took NOLA to the playoffs twice in six years, Holiday, Williamson, Ball and Ingram have a chance to do it year one.
Atlanta Hawks: Trae Young and John Collins have already proven to be an electric combo, and the addition of rookies Cam Reddish and De’Andre Hunter will do nothing but make the Hawks more exciting. Atlanta still employs Vince Carter, who, even at age 42, is still ‘half-man/half-amazing.’ There’s a lot to like about the Hawks. A lot of those things to like are Trae Young, but still, there’s a lot. John Collins has transitioned from a one-dimensional dunker to a real offensive option. Guard Kevin Huerter shot almost 40 percent from three as a rookie. Free agent addition Damian Jones started 22 games for a Warriors team that went to the Finals. After the All-Star break the Hawks offense took off, averaging an additional nine points per game. That bodes very well for improvement coming into this season. Number four overall pick Hunter has shown flashes of Luol Deng-esque ability. Don’t laugh, Luol Deng was really good. Reddish was very on and off in his one year at Duke, but his offensive potential is through the roof. The Hawks won’t be able to prevent very many points, but teams will have to score like crazy to keep up with them.
Sacramento Kings: The Kings have enough talent to become a powerhouse before 2025, but it’s the Kings, so caution is warranted. Buddy Hield has become a better-than-solid scorer, and shot 46 percent from deep last year. Point man De’Aaron Fox is an upper echelon defender whose shot has developed rapidly. Big man Marvin Bagley III is likely Sactown’s best player in the long run, and a core trio of Fox, Hield and Bagley is scary in all the best ways. The Kings added valuable depth this summer in wing Trevor Ariza and forward Richaun Holmes, both players that can add defense and experience to a young team’s bench. Harrison Barnes and Bogan Bogdanovic return, and with them, a large chunk of Sacramento’s scoring punch from last season. For as publicly maligned as Barnes is, he’s a very good fourth option. If you aren’t asking him to save the world, he’s a very good basketball player. Head coach Luke Walton comes from LA with championship experience both as a player, and as a coach, something previous Kings coaches have lacked. GM Vlade Divac has the Kings on the right track for the first time since the Chris Webber era ended in 2004. The Kings are on the way up, and the league is about to take notice.
Denver Nuggets: Denver is set to take over the gap left by Golden State, and they’re going to score a lot of points on the way there. Everyone’s favorite superstar Nikola Jokic can quite literally do it all, and it just so happens that he has help. Jamal Murray is full-time point guard now, a very good one at that. Paul Millsap and Mason Plumlee are some of the best second and third big man options the league has to offer. Michael Porter, Jr. still has a chance to be the player scouts thought he was coming out of high school, and guard trio Will Barton, Gary Harris and Malik Beasley provide high-quality production on both ends of the court. Particularly interesting for Denver this season is the play of rookie center Bol Bol. Bol slipped in the draft due to concerns about both injury and work ethic. That said, Bol has one of the highest ceilings in his draft class, and the potential to be a franchise changing talent. The Nuggets almost have too many pieces. The Nugs are coming for the west, and the NBA isn’t prepared.
Utah Jazz: The Jazz will have some jelling to do, but once that happens the west should be nervous. Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert and Mike Conley make for one of the best defensive trios in the league, and the offensive potential of Conley and Mitchell is nothing to sneeze at. Surrounding Utah’s big three are key cogs like sharpshooter Joe Ingles, offseason addition Bojan Bogdanovic, and former lottery pick Emmanuel Mudiay. Utah has been one of the league’s best defensive units in recent years, and the addition of Conley, Mudiay, and big man Ed Davis will nothing but improve their standing. The loss of Derrick Favors and Ricky Rubio hurts, but the Jazz have both the star power and depth to more than make up for it. The Jazz are fresh off a loss to the James Harden/Chris Paul version of the Rockets, but this is a much different group of Jazzmen. Mitchell comes off a summer under Gregg Popovich with team USA, and Gobert returns as the NBA’s reigning defensive player of the year. The west is going to have a lot of trouble scoring on the Jazz this year, and keeping up with them offensively won’t be easy either.