What a crazy offseason it has been for the NBA. From LeBron James making his much awaited return to Cleveland, to a draft class that has seen more hype than any since 2003. Following last year’s roller coaster ride resulting in the San Antonio Spurs winning yet another championship – five in 14 years – the roller coaster hasn’t stopped, with the FIBA World Championships not only concluding with a gold medal for Team USA, but also a significant and horrendous injury, with Paul George – debatably a top-10 player in the NBA – breaking his leg in preliminary games. In stark contrast, Derrick Rose has returned and looks to be back to almost full strength after two seasons which saw the former MVP first tear his ACL, return to action and then re-tear it once again.
With such a highly-touted draft class, including names like Andrew Wiggins, a high-flying potential superstar, Jabari Parker, seemingly a fusion of both Paul Pierce and Carmelo Anthony, and Joel Embiid, an oft-injured but prodigal center, rebuilding teams are anxious to see their prospects in real live action. Teams like the Boston Celtics, the Philadelphia 76ers, the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Lakers are all counting on their drafted players to shine and lead their teams into the future. Sadly, the Lakers’ Julius Randle broke his leg in the season opener and won’t play for a few months at the least, but the rest of the draft class seem ready to seize the season with a gusto, unlike their teams, who are “tanking” – losing in order to better their draft position – in hopes of stockpiling young talent through the upcoming draft.
Although several teams aren’t quite at contender status, the race for the championship looks to be a wildly competitive one, with many teams in serious contention.
At the head of these teams, the Spurs look to repeat, trying to once again ignore the calls of age regression that should have been experienced by Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker years ago. The trio just continues to produce results, year after year, despite their growing age, due to plenty of help from the 2014 Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, and vital role players like Danny Green and Boris Diaw.
After years of achieving basement-dweller status, the Cleveland Cavaliers are looking to reverse their fortunes after a huge offseason which saw them sign free agent and arguably the league’s top player in LeBron James, and then trade a whole handful of quality prospects and draft picks for the phenomenal sharpshooting power forward Kevin Love. Joining a young roster which includes the still 22-year-old star Kyrie Irving, the “Cavs” look to grab a hold of the relatively weak Eastern Conference and make their first trip to the Finals since 2007, when the Spurs swept the then LeBron-led Cavs.
Speaking of the Eastern Conference – which is mostly devoid of serious talent other than a few contenders – the Chicago Bulls look to capitalize upon their biggest offseason in years, where they brought in offensive juggernaut Pau Gasol and the best college shooter in recent memory with Doug McDermott. These two, in addition to the return of 2011’s NBA MVP Derrick Rose, look to back Chicago’s amazing defense with some offensive firepower. Being that the Bulls’ defense has been good enough to get them deep into the playoffs in recent years, despite their lack of offense, the bulls have a real chance at making a splash this season.
In the more competitive Western Conference, teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Los Angeles Clippers are trying to use their immense talent to lead their teams to their first championships ever. The Thunder have made a Finals appearance in 2012 with the help of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook’s dynamic duo, but it remains to be seen whether or not they have enough talent outside of the duo to win the championship. On the other end, the Clippers were once the joke of the league, being historically bad in an overwhelmingly good conference, but ever since the arrival of Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and now Doc Rivers, the team has been on the cusp of a Finals appearance, and with the scarily exponential development of high-flyer and Blake Griffin, anything is possible.
A couple borderline contenders made some dramatic moves in order to bolster their rosters, with the Washington Wizards signing free agent Paul Pierce who will provide both clutch scoring and veteran leadership, and the Phoenix Suns adding the gunning point guard Isiah Thomas to provide depth for their fantastic backcourt of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe.
Unfortunately, injuries have also played a big part of sculpting the NBA landscape over the offseason, with several vital players facing long-term recoveries. Paul George and Julius Randle both have suffered broken legs which will see them out of action for months, the third-overall pick in last year’s draft, Joel Embiid, faces months of recovery from surgery to repair his problematic feet, and both Rajon Rondo and Kevin Durant face a few weeks of recovery to start the season.
There is no shortage of drama and intrigue surrounding the upcoming NBA season, with both the competition for first and the competition for worst being spectacularly tight. Begun last Wednesday, the NBA season holds plenty of promise, and shouldn’t be missed.