The NBA is back! Lebron, KD, Luka, Jokic, The Greek Freak, Jimmy Buckets, and we can’t forget the league’s new phenom from the San Antonio Spurs, Victor Wembanyama!
We’re only on day one, but let’s jump ahead, why not! So who is winning it all? Who will be the league MVP? Is there anyone not named Wembanyama or Chet Holmgrem who can win Rookie of the Year? Every year it’s a tough challenge this early in the season to make predictions, but this year there seems to be more options in every category. I’d like to say the Denver Nuggets will repeat as champions, but I don’t see it happening. Too many teams made big improvements in the offseason, and the Nuggets did not.
Instead of making predictions and failing miserably, let’s take a look at the intriguing storylines that will make up the good, the bad, and the potentially ugly of the 2023-24 season.
Dame Lillard, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and the Milwaukee Bucks. There might not be a bigger smiling face in the NBA right now than Giannis. Not only was Lillard acquired from the Portland Trail Blazers to join the Bucks quest for more gold, but the Greek Freak has signed a 3 year/$186 million dollar extension. Not a bad couple of months for Mr. Antetokounmpo. Will it be enough to bring the chip’ back to the Midwest? The loss of Jrue Holiday will hurt the defense, but the Bucks definitely have a strong chance to be the ones standing tall when it’s all said and done.
Speaking of standing tall, speaking of Jrue Holiday, let’s talk some Boston Celtics. The C’s lose their longtime veteran leader Marcus Smart and Malcolm Brogdon, but they add Jrue Holiday and all 7’3 of Kristaps Porzingis. What the Celtics lose in bench depth, they add in firepower with this addition. If I’m Coach Mazzulla, I’m bringing Al Horford off the bench and starting Holiday, Porzingis, Derrick White, along with the All-Star pair of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Can the Celtics return to the NBA Finals and add the franchise’s 18th banner? With a few more moves to strengthen their bench, I say they certainly can.
Shall we talk about the Big Three in Phoenix? Will Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and Bradley Beal be able to win it all in their first year together? Will they need more than one season to gel as a team? While the addition of Beal is a big move, there are some additions that aren’t getting the attention they deserve. Sure, the Suns have lost future Hall of Famer Chris Paul and their big man in the middle Deandre Ayton, but in one off season they have added (in addition to Beal) Jusuf Nurkic, Bol Bol, Eric Gordon, Nassir Little, Yuta Watanabe, Drew Eubanks, and Grayson Allen. These are all players that have some upside to them. New Coach Frank Vogel will have the Suns firing on all cylinders and making a deep playoff run.
The Good – Honorable Mention: These are teams to keep an eye on. They may not be necessarily ready for a NBA Finals run, but they’ll definitely make some noise this year. The OKC Thunder, lead by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, raised some eyebrows last season. This season they get their rookie from last year, Chet Holmgren, back healthy after missing all of last year.
Light the Beam! De’Aaron Fox, Domantas Sabonis, and the Sacramento Kings won’t be sneaking up anyone this season. The league knows the Kings are for real, but more importantly, the Kings themselves know that they are for real. These darlings of Sacramento will be making noise all year round.
What’s going on with the Dallas Mavericks? The Mavs made the Western Conference Finals two seasons ago. I doubt you’ll see any NBA analyst select Dallas to make the WC Finals this season. In addition to resigning Kyrie Irving and bringing back sharpshooter Seth Curry, owner Mark Cuban also signed Grant Williams (from the Celtics), Derrick Jones Jr (from the Bulls), and Richaun Holmes (from the Kings). Those are not shabby moves by any means, but do they move the needle? Team superstar Luka Doncic will continue to be a superstar, but do the Mavericks have enough to compete against the powerhouse teams of the West? The chemistry between Luka and Kyrie will be a HUGE factor in determining how far the Dallas Mavericks can go. This is a make-or-break season for them.
Another team that has reached that make-or-break point is the Chicago Bulls. Their All-Star trio of Zach Lavine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic look good on paper, and have delivered on the court as well, but something is missing from this team. There’s a certain “X” factor that was lost the minute Lonzo Ball went down with injury. Is it toughness (are the Bulls too nice)? Is it defense? Is it a lack of an Alpha leader? Is it coaching? Is it bad roster construction? Whatever it is, it has the Bulls stuck in the middle of the Eastern Conference. With DeRozan entering the final year of his contract, this will be the last chance for this threesome.
The Bad – Honorable Mention: The Miami Heat. While the rest of the Eastern and Western Conference powerhouses all seemed to get better over the offseason, the Heat did not. Not only did they miss out on Dame Lillard and Jrue Holiday, but they also lost Gabe Vincent to the Los Angeles Lakers and Max Strus to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Heat will get strong play from rookie Jaime Jaquez Jr and second year player Nikola Jovic, but that won’t be enough. Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and Tyler Herro will EACH need to have an All-Star season to keep Miami in the title picture.
The (Potentially) Ugly…
Let’s start with the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies finished as the second seed in the Western Conference last season, with a 51-31 record. Their playoff run ended in the first round as they lost to Lebron (James) and the Lakers in the first round, 4 games to 2. The Grizzlies are led by superstar Ja Morant, but unfortunately they’ll start the season without him for the first 25 games, due to his suspension for (twice) being shown on social media waving a gun. With Dillon Brooks now a Houston Rocket, and Steven Adams lost for the season with a knee injury, Memphis is starting the season minus three of last year’s top players. Adding Marcus Smart and Derrick Rose to the roster will help (both with depth off the bench and leadership in the locker room), but with the moves made by the other West teams, this season can quickly get away from the Grizzlies. How quickly the team gets back on track once Ja comes backs will determine how far they go.
Last, but certainly not least, the Philadelphia 76ers. The James Harden saga has become the tiresome story of the offseason. To make it through an 82-game season and four rounds of NBA playoff basketball, a team has to be on the same page and working towards the same goals. The 76ers are not on the same page, and one could argue this team and franchise hasn’t been on the same page for many years now. The 76ers had the third best record in the NBA last season, even ahead of the defending champs, the Denver Nuggets. With or without Harden, the 76ers have a Top 6 team in the East. What will happen this season is a question mark. And that question mark could have a lingering impact on the future of team superstar Joel Embiid.
What will happen in the 2023-2024 NBA Season, no one knows, and that’s the beauty of it. That means we have no choice but to watch, enjoy, laugh, cringe, get emotional, get angry, be heartbroken, take your pick. So here we go NBA and basketball fans, it’s time to tip-off!
[Featured Image Source: Yahoosports.com]