The 2019 NBA offseason was one of the most memorable and eventful that we have seen in quite some time. A plethora of players – All-Stars, superstars, future Hall-of-Famers and former MVPs – switched teams either via trade or free agency, and the totality of all of the moves has completely altered the landscape and outlook of the league. Some teams that were in the title hunt last season have fallen out of contention, while others have climbed up to true contender status with their offseason additions.
There was a whole lot to unpack this summer following the conclusion of the NBA Finals through the bulk of free agency, but now that the dust has settled a bit and the, we can get a better idea of what the league will look like next season.
With that said, here’s a look at the 10 most intriguing early storylines to get excited about entering the 2019-20 NBA season.
1. A wide open NBA
For the first time in what feels like ages, there’s no true runaway favorite entering the season. When Kevin Durant left Oklahoma City and moved to the Bay Area as a free agent in 2016, the Golden State Warriors were considered the odds-on favorite every season, and arguably only injury issues prevented them from winning three titles during Durant’s three years in Oakland.
Coupled with the rest of the offseason’s relocations and Durant’s move to Brooklyn, the league just feels much more open. At least six teams –- Lakers, Clippers, Rockets, Nuggets, Bucks and 76ers — have a legitimate shot at a title, while several other teams could be in the mix as well. This newfound parity should make for an extremely exciting and intriguing season.
2. The new-look Lakers
LeBron James’ first season in the purple and gold was ultimately a forgettable one, but now that he has a legitimate co-star in Anthony Davis, all eyes – and expectations – will be on the Lakers. Thanks to the sheer talent of the James and Davis duo, the Lakers are the early favorites to win the 2020 NBA title, and anything short of that would be considered a disappointment in Los Angeles.
If you like LeBron and the Lakers, you’ll want to watch them to see them succeed. If you’re on the other side of the fence, you’ll want to see them fail. Either way, the Lakers are going to be must-see TV this season.
3. Westbrook and Harden reunited
There are a lot ofacross the league’s landscape, but perhaps none is more intriguing than the reunion of James Harden and Russell Westbrook in Houston. Harden and Westbrook played together for three seasons from 2009 to 2012 with the Oklahoma City Thunder, and both have gone on to win multiple scoring titles and MVPs since.
Though there are some concerns about how Harden and Westbrook — two high-volume, ball-dominant guards — will fit together in Houston’s backcourt, Westbrook, for one, isn’t worried.
6. Can the Warriors bounce back?
It’s been a rough couple of months for the Warriors. First, they lost both Durant and Klay Thompson to serious injuries during the NBA Finals. Then, they lost the Finals to the Toronto Raptors, and finally, they lost Durant to the Brooklyn Nets in free agency.
Sure, they recouped a bit by adding All-Star guard D’Angelo Russell in a sign-and-trade with Brooklyn. Plus, Thompson will be back eventually, and they still have two-time NBA MVP Steph Curry and 2017 Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Greenon the roster. So you certainly can’t write the Warriors off, but for the first time in several seasons they won’t be the runaway title favorites heading into the season, and for the first time since Steve Kerr has been in charge, they aren’t even necessarily a lock for a playoff spot in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.
With Durant gone and Russell slotted to play alongside Curry in the backcourt, it will be extremely interesting to see how the Warriors fare next season.
7. Hello, Brooklyn
After laying the groundwork for several seasons, the Nets made their major splash in free agency this summer by inking both Durant and Kyrie Irving to four-year deals. With the signings, Brooklyn cracked open a legitimate title window for themselves, while all but guaranteeing themselves relevancy in the Eastern Conference for the foreseeable future.
Yes, the fact that Durant will be sidelined next season puts a damper on things in the short-term, but the addition of Irving – and veteran center DeAndre Jordan – to a team that was a six-seed in the East last season could still be enough to do some serious damage.
8. How much better can Antetokounmpo get?
Reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo said this summer that he has only reached 60 percent of his potential as a player.
“There’s a lot of things I can improve on,” Antetokounmpo said. “First of all, [I have to] look at myself before I look at anybody else. Try to self-improve as much as possible. There are a lot of things that I got to work on in my game.
“A lot of people say, ‘You are the MVP, you are one of the best players in the league, you are so dominant. But I think I can get better. I think I am at 60 percent of my potential, as good as I can be. I just want to be better. If I am in the same situation again [in the conference finals], react better, play the game better, play better, execute better.”
The thought that a player that was downright dominant for large stretches of last season could improve by nearly 40 percent is a scary thought for the rest of the league.
9. Welcome to the Zion show
After months (and months) of anticipation, the 2019-20 season marks the beginning of Zion Williamson’s NBA career and man, will it be exciting to see what this kid brings to the table on the professional level.
Williamson is the most highly-hyped prospect since LeBron back in the early 2000s due to his combination of size and athleticism, and it will be fascinating to see how he matches up to some of the game’s greats as a 19-year old. If things go according to plan for Williamson, Pelicans fans won’t miss Anthony Davis for very long.
10. The LeBron tank watch
Usually, when we talk about a ‘tank watch’ in the NBA we’re talking about teams that are purposely positioning themselves for a lottery landing, but not this time around. This time, we’re talking about LeBron’s metaphorical physical tank, and how much he has left to give to the game.
After 16 seasons, 13 playoff appearances, nine Finals runs, and multiple Olympic appearances, it is beyond fair to question how much longer the 34-year-old James will be able to continue playing basketball at the elite level that we have come to expect from him. Like Tom Brady in the NFL, James is at the point in his career where, before every single season, people question if it will finally be the year that his play falls off of a cliff.
Will this season by the one where Father Time finally catches up to James? We’ll find out soon enough.
“We’ve been friends for many, many years,” Westbrook said of Harden. “Since I was 10, actually. So we’ve played with each other in Oklahoma City, and to be able to win something, you’ve got to be willing to sacrifice some parts of your game and we both understand that.”
The Rockets clearly felt like it was time to move on from Chris Paul. Will the addition of Westbrook equate to on-court improvement? Only time will tell. Houston clearly has a ton of talent, so the ceiling is very high, but the potential for things to go south [quickly] is also there.
4. Clippers are legitimate contenders
With two moves — signing Kawhi Leonard in free agency and trading for Paul George– the Clippers catapulted to the status of a legitimate contender, and they enter the ’19-20 season with a very real chance to win their first title in franchise history.
Led by Leonard, George, and gritty guard Patrick Beverley, the Clippers should be dominant defensively, and equally equipped on the offensive end. Though they’ve spent basically the entirety of their existence as a team living in the shadow of the Lakers, the Clippers have a chance to move out from under the Lakers and claim the league’s center stage as their own.
5. Will ‘The Process’ pay off?
It was a busy offseason for Philadelphia, as the organization continues to swing for the fences under general manager Elton Brand. It’s the fourth consecutive offseason that the Sixers have shaken up the roster. Jimmy Butler and J.J. Redick are gone. The additions of Al Horford and Josh Richardson project to give Philadelphia a dominant defense, and arguably the league’s most formidable first five.
In a seemingly weakened Eastern Conference, expectations for the Sixers are high, both externally and internally.
“I think for sure we’re going to be at the top of the East,” forward Tobias Harris said of the Sixers. “That being said, it’s hard to win games in the NBA. I know it’s going to take a lot of chemistry and work from every guy on the team. We have big goals for ourselves as a team. We’re ready for it.”
Sixers ownership invested a ton of money into the team over the offseason, and they will want to see results. After years of organic growth and development, the time is now for the Sixers.