The 2018-2019 NBA season is here! The best professional sports league (that's right I said it) in the world is back and the BSO staff is here for it. So many storylines. Will the Warriors be the first team since the 2000s Lakers to three-peat? Are we sure the Celtics are going to be that good? Familiar faces in new places. Rookies looking to prove themselves. Players poised for new contracts and extensions, trades, and the looming summer of 2019 free agency.
There are some major storylines that we will be keeping our eye on, so let's get to it!
Jimmy Butler and The Minnesota Timberpuppies
Yo. What the hell is going on in the Twin Cities? For those of you that have been living under a rock. Jimmy Butler was brought in last season by head coach/gm Tom Thibodeau, to help teach the franchises young stars (Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins) how to compete at a higher level on a nightly basis. By all accounts, there were chemistry issues fairly early on as KAT and Wiggins didn't seem to respond to Thib's and Jimmy's tough love approach.
Despite the apparent chemistry issues, Jimmy and the young pups were looking like a lock to be the #4 seed in last season's playoffs. Then Jimmy got hurt and the team slid all the way to the last playoff spot and nearly missed them entirely. After a first-round exit, rumors and rumbling began and Jimmy demanded to be traded, with two years and roughly $36 million remaining on his deal. Jimmy's belief was, KAT and Wiggins didn't want to do the work necessary to compete at the highest level and move the franchise forward into a deep playoff run and ultimately championship contention.
There was talk of a potential trade with the Miami Heat and the Houston Rockets were mentioned as a long shot, but nothing got done as training camp and preseason began. Then last week, Jimmy (still under contract) shows up to his first practice of the season - he had been away from the team all summer - an hour late during team scrimmages. He grabs the third string players and guys who likely won't be on the final roster, and according to multiple reports gave the starters (which include KAT and Wiggins), the business. Routinely beating them and when matched up with KAT, didn't allow the talented big man to score. It was reported that whenever KAT received the ball on offense with Jimmy guarding him, he immediately passed the ball back out. Jimmy was also said to be berating KAT and Wiggins, calling them soft.
The chemistry on this team is toxic right now. The Timberwolves and owner Glen Taylor have made the decision that the cornerstones of the franchise are KAT and Wiggins. KAT just signed a 5 year $158M extension and Wiggins is in the second year of his 5 year $150M extension. Suffice to say, those two aren't going anywhere.
Jimmy's practice stunt, may have been the wrong way for a veteran to lead a team, but KAT and Wiggins' inability to go back at him, kind of proved his point about their level of toughness. If you are a member of the Timberwolves and Jimmy is eventually traded and during a close game KAT is in the huddle urging everyone to be tough and battle and stay together, won't that message ring a little hollow?
LeBron James and The Lake Show
Bron is entering his 16th season in the league and he's still the best player in the world. Nobody moves the needle quite like he does, both on and off the court. Bron is shifting into the back end of his career. He's still hungry to win titles, but we are witnessing a man who is comfortable with his basketball legacy. When it's all said and done he's either going to be the GOAT or just behind the GOAT. He has many interests and business ventures off the court that will sustain him for the rest of his post-basketball life. But, he's got at least four more years (length of his Lakers contract) to add even more to a pretty bulletproof legacy.
If you watched the Lakers in the preseason, they look good with Bron in the purple and gold. They're playing with tempo and the ball movement that coach Luke Walton - who incidentally was in the same draft class as Bron - implemented last season.
Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka brought in veterans Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, and Michael Beasley to fill out the roster. But these players are all on one year or short-term deals. The key will be how the presence of Bron helps the development of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma.
The Lakers are a proud franchise with a history steeped in championships. If Bron, the young guns, and wily veterans are looking like a top-3 seed in the West, don't be surprised if Lakers brass tries to pull off a trade for another superstar by the deadline. While the Lakers certainly want to be players in the upcoming summer free agent market, an open window this season may cause them to make an early move.
How Good Will The Kawhi Leonard Led Raptors Be?
The Toronto Raptors won 59 games last season and were the #1 seed in the eastern conference playoffs. They were summarily bounced out in the conference semis by LeBron and the Cavaliers. GM Masai Ujiri promptly fired the coach of the year Dwane Casey and broke up the BFF backcourt duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. They traded the latter to the Spurs for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.
So, a 59 win team essentially swaps DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi and Danny Green? Sounds like a win to me. New head coach Nick Nurse offers the players a bit more freedom on offense and defense to improvise, with veterans like Kawhi, Danny Green and Kyle Lowry could be a very good thing.
This is also an important season for the Raptors chances of signing Kawhi Leonard to a long-term deal. If the Raptors improve on their record and/or beat out the Celtics for the #1 seed in the east, and they make a conference finals run or an NBA Finals run, Kawhi would be the featured player. That has to go a long way in their chances to keep him in the T-Dot, Uncle Dennis aside...
Speaking of the Celtics
The C's might be the most talented team in the league 1-10. No starting five is better than the Warriors, but 6-10 is where the C's have an edge over most teams and their starting five is pretty damn good too. Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward return from injuries, joining Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Al Horford in the starting lineup. Brown and Tatum benefited from the injuries to Kyrie and Hayward, as they received a ton of valuable playing time and reps in the conference finals against LeBron James.
The natural inclination is to pencil the Celtics down for 60 wins and a trip to the NBA Finals. After all, they pushed LeBron and the Cavs to seven games in the conference finals without Kyrie and Hayward. Not so fast. Head coach Brad Stevens is an excellent mind and arguably the best coach in the league. But this is the first time he'll have to deal with balancing the egos of star players, and the development of young guys who got a taste of success last season and want to keep pushing forward. Players like Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier will likely see their playing time decrease. How will Stevens manage all of that? Stevens and the Celtics won't catch anyone by surprise, the target is now on their backs.
Will The Warriors Cement Their Place Among The Great NBA Dynasties?
The power in the NBA resides in the Bay Area. The Warriors will be going for a three-peat and their fourth title in five years. This will be the last season in Oakland before the team moves to their fancy new digs in San Francisco. Team leader and 2X MVP Steph Curry has gone on record, saying it would be nice to win one more title for the people and fans in Oakland. The team is also openly embracing the challenge of the three-peat and their fifth consecutive trip to the Finals.
They will also be working in a new player, coming off an injury. Perhaps you've heard of him? DeMarcus Cousins. What an embarrassment of riches for this squad. But, they are getting a year older and the good times don't last forever. Win or lose, the Warriors will be heading into next summer with some uncertainty. Klay Thompson will be a free agent, though he's expressed a desire to remain in the Bay Area for the rest of his career. And, the team's best player and 2X Finals MVP Kevin Durant, will also be a free agent.KD hasn't given any assurances that he will stay and internally the team is bracing for his departure.
With the KD rumors about bolting in free agency, working another all-star into the starting lineup, and the grind of attempting to become legendary, this will be quite the season for the champs.
For what it's worth, my predictions for the upcoming NBA season!
Finals: Raptors vs. Warriors (4-2 Warriors)
Finals MVP: Steph Curry
Hot Take: The Celtics won't make the conference finals
MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo
ROY: Luka Doncic
DPOY: Anthony Davis
Coach of Year: Nick Nurse
6th Man: Lou Williams
Most Improved: Myles Turner
All NBA 1st team: