As fans of the NBA, we’re really lucky to be witnessing one of the most exciting and interesting periods of time in the history of the league. We have superstars and incredible young players, accessibility to games, highlights, GIFs, Vines and viral memes on so many different platforms (even weekly game broadcasts in virtual reality!) — something the NFL is actively avoiding — and so many compelling storylines that will unfold on a nightly basis from October to April.
With the regular season finally beginning on Tuesday night (Oct. 25), here’s a list of five top storylines for fans to watch out for. There will be plenty, but these stand out the most as the 2016-17 season gets ready to tip off. Plenty more will develop as you watch games, follow Twitter and really dive into the NBA this season. (Trust me.)
What’s Next For The Warriors?
After becoming the first team to ever blow a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals (and replacing the Crying Jordan as the most overused, nauseating NBA Twitter punchline), Golden State went out and signed Kevin Durant, who probably wouldn’t have signed there if the Warriors would have held on and won their second straight NBA title.
Instead, we have Golden State as a super-duper team with Durant joining Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and the rest of a team that will go from being admiringly adored and covered like they were The Beatles to (probably) the most villainous, hated team in the league. And whether you like it or not, Golden State is going to be incredible.
Can they once again break the record for most regular season wins in a season? Can Durant and Curry share the spotlight? Will Green stop kicking people in the groin? No team since the 2010-11 Heat will be under more intense scrutiny and will be covered so comprehensively like this Warriors ball-club. How will the league’s new super squad handle it?
Kevin Durant vs. Russell Westbrook
The Durant-Westbrook rivalry may have latently started while they were Oklahoma City Thunder teammates, but really began in earnest the day KD departed for the Warriors.
In what will likely go down as the most analyzed Instagram photo of cupcakes in history, Westbrook posted this innocent-looking pic right after Durant left OKC:
It turns out that former Thunder big man Kendrick Perkins used to call soft teammates “cupcake.” So as fun as it may have seemed, the Insta post was a well-hidden insult towards Durant.
A recent Rolling Stone profile of Durant quotes a source that said this of KD’s relationship with Russ on the floor:
“Russell’s a my-turn, your-turn kind of guy, and don’t think defenders don’t know that. When Russ had the ball, KD’s guy would leave him to go and help guard Russ.”
Earlier this month, Westbrook called what Durant now has with the Warriors “cute.” Whether or not the Warriors are playing the Thunder, everyone’s going to be talking about the Durant-Westbrook dynamic all season long.
How Will The Cavs Follow Up Their Title?
LeBron James fulfilled his life-long dream of bringing a championship to the city of Cleveland? Now what? How can he top that? What’s the sequel?
The Cavs have pretty much the same team as last season; only Matthew Dellavadova, Timofey Mozgov and Mo Williams (who may re-sign) are gone among rotation players. Cleveland is the overwhelming favorite to oppose the Warriors for the third straight year. Toronto and Boston will be gunning for Cleveland in the Eastern Conference, but don’t pose enormous threats as long as the Cavs are healthy and stable. Cleveland’s largest obstacle right now might be Tristan Thompson’s possible engagement to a Kardashian.
LeBron is the top player of our generation, like Michael Jordan was the generation before him. MJ was never complacent with winning championships until he decided he was finished. It’ll be interesting to see if James can do the same with the Cavs.
Labor Peace and its Implications
League insiders were optimistic that settlement on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement would be reached before December, when the owners and Players Association had a mutual opt-out on the current CBA. That scenario would have increased the possibility of a work stoppage in 2017.
Then came Thursday’s news that the two sides were close to a new long-term pact that would mean at least several more years of labor peace. The impact of the pending new CBA and how it’ll affect the league going forward will be a major story over the next several months.
More of a revenue share for the players, larger rookie and veteran minimum salaries, an overhauled salary structure and two-way contracts for D-League players — not to mention a continuation of the one-and-done rule in college basketball — are only a few of the major alleged changes that will be discussed going forward.
Year Of Reckoning For The Clippers?
The L.A. Clippers are probably the league’s best team behind Golden State and Cleveland. There’s also a chance that this year is the team’s best chance to win it all.
Blake Griffin and Chris Paul both have opt-outs on their contracts that they’ll exercise after the season, allowing them to join J.J. Redick as unrestricted free agents next summer. That trio will command at least $60-70 million in annual salary for the the 2017-2018 season, possibly putting the nucleus of Doc Rivers’ team in flux.
The Clippers seasons have always ended dramatically — whether due to last season’s injuries or the Donald Sterling scandal — and this season could finally be the one where the band breaks up. Stay tuned.
- The Bulls have a trio of stars in Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo, yet I have them as one of my five teams due to decline this season. Can Chicago overcome its lack of shooting?
- The Knicks! Derrick Rose was just found not liable for civil damages in an alleged rape case. With he and Joakim Noah coming over from the Bulls — joining Courtney Lee as teammates of Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis in New York — Rose called this group a superteam. Based on New York’s national TV appearances, we’ll be talking about this team a lot — for better or worse.
- The Tom Thibodeau-led Timberwolves are one of my five teams on the rise, bursting with young, exciting talent. They’ll be one of the great League Pass and social media darlings this season.
- How will the Spurs fare without Tim Duncan, who quietly retired over the summer. There are already some bogus LaMarcus Aldridge trade rumors, but there’s oddly some uncertainty surrounding always-steady San Antonio.