As crazy as it sounds, the new NBA season has already arrived. The NBA is celebrating its 75th anniversary.
Given that the 2020 NBA Finals concluded just one year and 8 days ago (October 11, 2020), we have now seen games played in three different NBA seasons all in just over a year.
It feels like the Bubble was yesterday, but we’ve had an entire 72-game season with a new champion crowned in the time since the end of the Bubble and today.
Somehow, the NBA was able to make it happen during Covid, and for that Adam Silver and the league’s executive office, as well as the team owners, should be applauded.
When you think of how much Covid screwed up for the NBA starting all the way back in March 2020–from the schedule to the salary cap to the ability of fans to see games live, and so much more–it is only now that we are getting back to “normal” in the league. When the 2020 season was delayed for 5+ months, and ended right as the 2021 season was originally supposed to begin, the NBA then had to begin the 2021 season just 70 days after the 2020 season ended, and lop 10 games off the schedule as well, to ensure that we could be here tonight anticipating the start of a full, normal 2022 season.
We’re back to a regular NBA schedule. While it was certainly nice to have the NBA Finals take place in July this year, meaning we only had to wait a few short weeks until the NFL preseason began instead of the normal month-and-a-half summer sports dead period, I think we’re already to have our lives go back to normal, and that includes the NBA.
Tonight, the Bucks will receive their rings and hoist their Championship banner prior to taking on the Brooklyn Nets, who the Bucks defeated in 7 games in the second round of the playoffs, and who are the biggest storyline in the league heading into the new season.
The Lakers and Warriors will follow that game to kick things off for the Western Conference. It was obvious that the NBA would put the Bucks and Nets in the marquee spot for the East, but snubbing the reigning Western Conference Champion Suns for both the team they beat in the first round and a team that didn’t even make the playoffs?
As I see it, these are the top-6 storylines in the NBA right now, and which will define this 2022 season:
- Kyrie Irving’s status with the Nets: Will Kyrie Irving get the vaccine and rejoin his team? If not, will the Nets trade him and move on from him? Has he lost the trust of his teammates? Will he ever play again in the NBA? Can Brooklyn win the NBA Title without him? Can Brooklyn even win the East without him? Brooklyn with Kyrie is the favorite to win the NBA title. But without him, the whole landscape of the league changes.
- The Veteran Lakers with Westbrook: Can the Lakers make a big three of LeBron, AD and Russ work? And, does the Lakers’ veteran roster have enough in the tank to reach the mountaintop? Is LeBron still the King of the NBA in year 19? Or has he been supplanted by Giannis?
- The Bucks quest to repeat: Are they for real? Or did they only win because the Nets and Lakers were both dealing with injuries throughout the playoffs? These questions will be hanging over the Milwaukee Bucks all throughout the season, and they will only be able to silence the doubters come playoff time.
- Klay Thompson’s long-awaited return from injury: Klay Thompson hasn’t played an NBA game since Game 6 of the 2019 Finals against Toronto. He tore his ACL in that game and missed the whole 2020 season, and then before the 2021 season began, he tore his Achilles. He’ll make his return at some point this season. Will he be back to his normal self? And will his return be enough to turn the Warriors back into contenders? They’ve missed the playoffs for two straight years without him (and, it must be said, KD as well).
- Ben Simmons’ falling-out with Philly: Ben Simmons was seen yesterday practicing with sweatpants on–and he had his phone in his pocket the whole time. Today he was sent home from practice for refusing to participate in a drill. Joel Embiid said to the media about Simmons, “At this point, I don’t care about that man, honestly. He does whatever he wants.” Simmons is clearly out of there, but where will he end up? And is he doing irreparable damage to both his reputation and his trade value with his behavior?
- Will Dame request a trade mid-season? Thought clearly nowhere near as disgruntled as Ben Simmons, word is that Damian Lillard’s patience is running thin in Portland. He was expected to ask for a trade in the offseason, but never did. Now the expectation is that he’ll give it a go with new head coach Chauncy Billups. But if things don’t go well for Portland this season, how long will Dame remain content? It’s possible we could see him traded mid-season. At the very least, there’s a good chance he won’t be on the Portland Trail Blazers at the start of next year’s NBA season.
In the time I was writing this post, the Bucks defeated the Nets-minus-Kyrie resoundingly, 127-104.
Giannis picked up right where he left off and had 32 points, 14 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 blocks and a steal on 12-25 shooting.
KD had 32 points as well, 11 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocks on 13-25 shooting. James Harden had an okay night, 20 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists and, surprisingly, 2 blocks, but on just 6-16 shooting. The Nets’ second leading scorer was actually Patty Mills, who had 21 on 7-11 shooting including a perfect 7-7 from three. Overall, the Nets only had 4 guys in double digits on the night–the other was Nic Claxton who had 19 on 6-9.
The Nets could really have used Kyrie out there, but he wouldn’t have prevented the Bucks from scoring 127.
Now the Lakers are about to tip off. LeBron is back to wearing the headband for the first time since I think his Miami days, and he’s also back to #6, also for the first time since his Miami days.
The stands are completely full, including that area behind the bench that during the playoffs was blocked off.
The NBA is back.
Header photo credit: Bleacher Report. I had to use it because it was so awesome.