I miss basketball.
As the days removed from the NBA Finals have turned into weeks, the time has allowed me to appreciate on an even more fundamental level how much I enjoyed the NBA bubble. In what the experts are deeming a “short offseason,” as the Players Association and owners will vote on the start day of the 2021 season, I wanted to focus on some of the players who will be drawing maximum attention come tipoff.
There is a considerable pool of star-caliber talent we haven’t seen in quite some time. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving have both been nursing long-term injuries, while the star tandem waits in the wings for the Brooklyn Nets. Their return to, at or near their original peaks as scorers could yield one of the few duos that can give the dreaded LeBron/Anthony Davis pairing a run for their money.
Meanwhile, Klay Thompson is looking to reunite with fellow splash brother Stephen Curry to bring the Golden State Warriors right back into the championship conversation. Their return to form somewhat past the traditional player’s prime will be under intense scrutiny, but their generational ability has taught us time and time again to never doubt these guys.
Want some more under-the-radar stars to watch for? Washington Wizards point guard John Wall, whose return could add some relevance to the empty-calorie scoring outbursts of Bradley Beal, was a face of the league once upon a time, before a brutal slew of injuries.
There’s a ton of young talent on the rise, too. Zion Williamson is certainly the biggest name in this vein, and it will be exciting to see what he can do with the Pelicans’ creative coaching and some more adjustment to his team, as well as the NBA game as a whole. Please, New Orleans, don’t ruin this man.
Arguably the most impactful rookie from last year, however, was Ja Morant, who had the Memphis Grizzlies on the cusp of a playoff berth. His playmaking and shotmaking have accelerated a once-slow rebuild in Memphis, and the Grizzlies could make some unexpected noise out west as he steps into a leadership role for an exciting young core.
Michael Porter Jr. was the story of the NBA bubble with his incredible scoring performances, and his continued growth will be critical for adding the juice the Denver Nuggets need to make a run at the finals this season.
RJ Barrett has been, more or less, forgotten since being drafted, but he could be an indicator for the success of a potential New York Knicks rebuild; his scoring prowess this season is crucial for that.
Want a short list of candidates for “face of the NBA” over the next five-to-10 years? Look no further than third-year players Luka Doncic and Trae Young as the clear frontrunners. Both have arguably graduated to stardom already, but their ceilings could be as high as perennial top-five players. I could also see Jayson Tatum or Bam Adebayo ascending to these heights as well.
How about some pot-stirring trade candidates? The NBA rumor mill is undeniably fun and absurd, and a few star-caliber players have been mentioned. After an 8–0 run in the bubble, I’m less convinced the Phoenix Suns would let go of Devin Booker unless the star himself expresses some displeasure.
The Philadelphia 76ers hired Daryl Morey as president of basketball operations, with their shortcomings this season putting the awkwardly fitting Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid on trade watch, however unlikely it may be. Philadelphia would likely turn any trade into a swap of stars, and people can’t help but use the Morey hire to speculate about James Harden going there.
The Rockets seem to be less and less committed to their old regime every week, which certainly signifies that Russell Westbrook, along with Harden, could potentially be pried away for the right price. Chris Paul is a veteran who can still guide an offense to some impressive heights, and his name could be linked to any number of win-now situations. I’m especially scared by the Milwaukee rumors, as he would be a deadly playmaking presence for Giannis Antetokounmpo to benefit from. Speaking of Antetokounmpo, he will forever be one with this rumor mill right up until the Bucks win a title or he signs his supermax contract. The NBA has proven time and again that it has no aversion to splashy trades with big names attached.