Basketball tips off this month but only after a rather busy offseason. What’s normally a restful stretch involving players posting to Instagram from sunny faraway beaches was chock-full of trades, rumors, and drama.
The 75th NBA season officially kicks off October 19th, and in style. Two big matchups cut the tape, with the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks playing the star-studded Brooklyn Nets. The Lakers and Warriors also go head-to-head. It’s a showcase of title contenders, with either the Bucks or Nets favored to win it all this year. And, with arenas mostly going capacity this time around, the season is looking—at least at the moment—like a pretty normal one. Which is music to the ears of hoops fans looking to get out to a game or watch from home.
For now, let’s get you caught up on the last few months of goings-on around the National Basketball Association.
The pandemic still runs the show, and rightfully so. Of the pro leagues, the NBA has proved fairly successful and innovative in its handling of things. Between getting the lion’s share of players vaccinated and creating safe playing areas like the bubble, it’s weathered the storm pretty well.
This biggest news has revolved around the relatively few players who have refused to be vaxxed. Among them is Kyrie Irving, the standout point guard for the Brooklyn Nets. The team has said Irving cannot play or workout with the team until he gets pricked. Irving’s reluctance to get vaccinated has resulted in some pretty explosive commentary from fellow players as well as former All-Stars. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has said unvaccinated players should be removed from the league entirely, not a terrible idea if you believe in public health and putting an end to COVID for good.
There are others in the mix who have questioned the shot publicly and avoided getting it. Players like Bradley Beal of the Wizards and Andrew Wiggins of the Warriors appear to not want anything to do with it. We’ll see how the league and specific teams deal with these objections. Meanwhile, hats off to the WNBA, which recently announced that 99% of its players are vaccinated.
As usual, there were a host of trades during the NBA offseason, some tastier than others. One of the biggest moves shipped Russell Westbrook to his hometown of LA to don a Lakers jersey. The explosive guard joins Lebron James, Anthony Davis, and a pretty deep roster that’s clearly trying to get at least one more title before King James retires. The Lakers added veteran scorer Carmelo Anthony as well. Sharing the headlines was Ben Simmons, the Aussie native, and Philadelphia 76ers forward. He’s gone back and forth on his allegiance to his team and many believe he’ll be gone soon, putting an end to the franchise’s failed “process” era.
Chicago Bulls fans finally have something to be excited about. The team acquired DeMar DeRozan in August from the rebuilding San Antonio Spurs, giving the Bulls a four-time All-Star. Elsewhere, there was a lot of buzz around the LA Clippers and whether or not the team would hang tight or dissolve. The team’s best player, Kawhi Leonard, is notoriously quiet around the media and rarely reveals much. Finally, over the summer, Leonard agreed to stay in a Clippers uniform, to the tune of a four-year deal worth $176 million.
Many players are engaged in side projects, from restaurants to music careers. A couple of Portland Trailblazers have had busy off-seasons. The backcourt made up of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, has been dropping new tunes and making wine, respectively. Lillard, aka Dame D.O.L.L.A., released this video over the break while McCollum just purchased about 300 acres of vineyard land in the Willamette Valley.
The newest Space Jam finally came out over the summer, featuring Lebron James. It has raked in over $160 million in the box office and sees James following Michael Jordan’s lead in acting in the animated hoops film. Elsewhere, Steph Curry continues to oversee his mini-golf show Holey Moley while ever-fashionable Russell Westbrook is still hard at work on his clothing line, Honor the Gift.
It’s hard to bet against any team with the Greek Freak on the roster. That said, the Bucks will have some stiff competition this season. If the Brooklyn Nets can stay healthy (and vaccinated), they will almost surely make a deep run in the playoffs. Other contenders include the Phoenix Suns, who wowed last season (and reached the finals) thanks to veteran Chris Paul and some standout young talent like Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton. The Nuggets have the reigning MVP in Nikola Jokic while the Atlanta Hawks surprised a lot of people last year, led by three-point maestro Trae Young, easily one of the most entertaining players in all of basketball.
There’s plenty to watch away from the title race too. Zion Williams continues to inspire awe, the main man for the New Orleans Pelicans. The Warriors will fill out the highlight reels as long as Steph Curry is handling the ball, and Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks have become required viewing.
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