The 2019-20 NBA season is getting closer and closer as we near the two-month mark until the season tipoff.
Along with a new NBA season comes new storylines that surround the league that never sleeps. Unprecedented player movement over this summer has treated the league like a snow globe and made it difficult to really put your finger on where you expect most teams to be in the coming season.
As we prepare for what will surely be one of the most interesting and wide-open seasons in recent memory, here are four burning questions and major storylines worth keeping an eye on.
4. What do the Warriors have left in the tank?
For the last few seasons, the only undeniable parts of life seemed to be death, taxes, and the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. Winning three titles in five consecutive Finals appearances over the last few seasons is no fluke, but this team will look a lot different entering the 2019-20 season.
Back to back Finals MVP Kevin Durant is now off the team and out of the conference and Klay Thompson is set to miss a significant amount of time, likely not returning to the court until the near end of the regular season.
Luckily for the Warriors, Stephen Curry will have a chance again to shine as the focal point of the offense – something that earned him the only unanimous MVP just a few seasons ago.
The addition of D’Angelo Russell gives the team another incredibly capable scorer and co-star to help mitigate the absence of Durant and Thompson. It wouldn’t be wise for anyone to start counting this team out, but injury and depth issues are absolutely a reason for concern.
Only time will tell if Golden State’s immediate ceiling in a crowded West is still competing for a title or just fighting for homecourt advantage.
3. Which Los Angeles team will be better?
Kawhi Leonard’s pairing with Paul George to play with the Clippers was one of the most impactful moves of this past offseason. With the league shifting into an era of dynamic duos, this is one of the better, if not the best one-two punches in the league.
That said, they don’t need to look for their best competition. LeBron James and Anthony Davis will be sharing Staples Center with the Clippers duo and the battle for Los Angles could just as neck and neck as it will be gritty.
Part of what makes this interesting is just how different the personalities of both the teams and their stars are compared to one another. The Lakers, led by a grandiose LeBron, have long since been possibly the flashiest organization in the league, while the Clippers, much like Kawhi Leonard, may be much more laid back, but equally deadly.
The Lakers and Clippers have both been mentioned frequently as potential Western Conference representatives for the NBA Finals and it’s no mystery as to why.
At the end of the day, though only one team will make it out of the West, and with that could come some serious hometown bragging rights.
2. Can Kyrie carry the Nets until KD returns?
Along with Kawhi’s move to the Clippers came an even more open path to the finals for juggernaut teams in the East.
It’s certain that the return of a healthy Kevin Durant to pair with Kyrie Irving and a talent laden young Nets team will certainly be among the best in the East – but where do they fit into the mix until then?
Obviously, there shouldn’t’ be worries about missing the playoffs. However, they could be entering the postseason in just about anywhere from the one to eight seed. Brooklyn is coming off a 42-win season with largely the same team, plus a couple of big upgrades, so they can be expected to improve upon that by at least a few wins.
For Kyrie, though, taking care of business and leading this team to success would be the perfect image rehab after his tumultuous time with Boston last season. The redemptive potential is almost poetic. He is once again, for now at least, the leader of a young team with serious potential to be a dominant force in the league.
If Irving can get this team rolling early and in great position by the time Durant returns, which may not even be this season, and be an integral part of a young team with great chemistry, he can help silence the memories of his recent shortcomings.
1. Can the Raptors stay competitive?
In keeping with the Kawhi Leonard-Michael Jordan comparisons, the Toronto Raptors join the Chicago Bulls as the only teams in NBA history to enter a season coming off winning a title and losing their Finals-MVP-winning mega-star.
The Raps knew when they traded for Leonard that it was likely to be nothing more than a fling, and it was just that. While it went about as great as it could have gone and delivered the franchise their first championship, they will now prepare to enter the post-Kawhi era.
Even without the Klaw, this team isn’t hurting for talent. The rise of Pascal Siakam helps fill at least a fraction of the void left by the now Clipper, but until that promise turns to production, it’s unclear on just how much of the loss he can make up for. Toronto still has a bevy of impactful veterans, like Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka, as well, that will help round out a roster sure to be on their way to the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.
The postseason may definitely be within their grasp, but without Kawhi, their chance at competing for another chip could be long gone- especially considering how big of a role Leonard’s heroic play played in their playoff run last season.
If their trajectory falls short of a repeat, there’s a possibility this team could start looking to shed the expiring deals of those vets and retool for the future.